'Morgans' Director Talks SJP, 'Ties' Drama and Going to War With 'Avatar'
By Mike Ryan Posted Dec 17th 2009 02:51PM
Marc Lawrence -- the writer and director of films such as 'Music and Lyrics' and 'Two Weeks Notice' -- is well aware of the juggernaut he's up against this weekend. His new film, 'Did you Hear About the Morgans?' will be meeting head-to-head with something called 'Avatar.' At the mention of 'Avatar,' Lawrence concedes, "This will either be the most brilliant or the worst move in the history of scheduling." Lawrence is betting (or really hoping) that not everyone has an interest in blue 3-D aliens and will seek out his story of a separated New York couple (Huge Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker) who witness a murder and find themselves living in Wyoming as part of the Witness Protection Program. PopEater met Lawrence in Midtown Manhattan to discuss his new film; his experience writing and directing 'Family Ties' -- which has been in the news lately -- and the greatness of the 'Pop Goes My Heart' video from 'Music and Lyrics.'
So... Wasn't Hugh Grant retired?
Hugh is always retired. He retires after every single film and will never work again. At the end of 'Music and Lyrics,' I'd mentioned this idea to him and I think the reason the film got done was his enthusiasm for the idea. He really took to it and I value his judgment. So he came out of retirement for this and I'm sure he will go right back into retirement until he reads something that he likes. I think what he really means by that is that there are a lot of actors that will say, "What's the next one? What's the next one?" He doesn't do that. He finishes a thing then he goes back to London and he goes back to his life. He needs to read something he connects with. Since I've known him he's turned down projects that have, at least commercially, become huge successes. For whatever reason, they just didn't connect with him.
You're fairly entrenched into the romantic comedy genre. Was this always by design?
I think it was Spielberg that said, "filmmakers make the kinds of films that they liked growing up," and I liked all kinds of films growing up. The Woody Allen films and the Jim Brooks films, those films hit me on some more primal level. I mean, I love 'Star Wars,' but in terms of your writing biorhythms, those are the ones that hit me with some deeper connections. I don't see myself that way and I'd love to try something else but, this far, that's mostly what's come out in the way that I think.
There is a formula to romantic comedies. What do you do to keep this kind of film fresh even though there's always going to be specific elements?
I wrote a movie called 'Forces of Nature' years ago with Sandy Bullock and Ben Affleck...
And David Strickland, who died shortly after...
Oh, yes, he was wonderful. That was awful because he was great; he was so terrific in the film. But, that was a film where they didn't wind up together at the end. In a movie like 'Did You Hear About the Morgans?' what makes it different to me is the marriage aspect makes it, at least for me, fresher. It's usually some version of boy meets girl and you watch them. Here they've clearly already met and have gone through some trouble. So, for me, that's what was unique about it. And we've seen big city folk go to small towns before in lots of wonderful movies like 'Doc Hollywood,' those sorts of things. But the idea of a married couple is what made it unique and fresh.
What is your opinion on the more alternative, less mainstream films that are still labeled romantic comedies like '(500) Days of Summer,' which are less successful at the box-office but are sometimes treated kinder by critics?
I haven't seen '(500) Days of Summer' and I bet I would like it a lot. I think, generally, good storytelling is good storytelling. I've seen movies that have been critically praised and lauded that were independent films that I thought were not particularly good and they had just hyped up the coolness factor and I think often people will fall for that. Good storytelling is good storytelling: Go watch a Billy Wilder film or go watch 'The Apartment' -- that could have been an independent film on some level because it's just about real people and real situations.
For this film, did you have to teach Sam Elliott how to milk a cow?
(Laughs) Sam -- he probably won't mind me telling you this -- was somewhat resistant to milking the cow. Only because Sam was both great in the film and our technical consultant because he's one of the few people who has spent time in that world. He'd never milked a cow before but he certainly embraced it and seemed to know what he was doing more than anybody else did.
Was the cow trained to kick at Sarah Jessica Parker?
That just happened; we were hoping something like that would happen. There are obviously a number of scenes in the movie with animals where they were doing roughly what we hoped they would do and there were trainers and coaches all around. I think the cow just gotten tired by the eighth take and was tired of the scene...
Like some actors...
Yeah, exactly! If actors could kick, that's what they would do.
Of any one scene in any film, it's quite possible I've watched the 'Pop Goes My Heart' video from 'Music and Lyrics' more than any other.
It's so weird. 'Pop Goes My Heart' was shot literally the last two days of 'Music and Lyrics.' It was so jammed in to get that done. I remember thinking if we had enough time to do both the purple background and the checkerboard background. So by the end it was almost like student filmmaking...
Doesn't that add to why it turned out well?
It kind of did. And like with good storytelling, the song was so good. So it was easy for me to extrapolate a story from the song that would go with it. And Hugh was terrific and Scott [Porter] was terrific.
You had a long run on 'Family Ties' as a writer and director; a show that's been in the news the last couple of weeks. Is it disheartening to hear what's happening with Brian Bonsall [Bonsall, who played young Andrew Keaton, was recently charged with felony assault.]
When I knew Brian he was five or six and he was as sweet as could be. It's a joke -- I've made the joke -- of child stars. It's really, really difficult. I don't think I'd recognize Brian if I passed him on the street and I don't know if he would even remember me but I wish him nothing but the best. I think it's a tough thing because what happens in those situations is that you're put in this place and there's an enormous amount of attention focused on you. You're not at an age where you've got other things in your life where you can get any perspective. When 'Family Ties' was on, we came on after Cosby, half the people in the country with television sets were watching 'Family Ties." So you're thrust into this thing and then it goes away and it's not like you have other things to balance out what happens when it goes away. It becomes family and suddenly it's gone. I can't even imagine what it is when you're that age and there's all these adults and people making a fuss over you and suddenly... where did that go? I really wish him well because he was as sweet as could be.
It was good to see Wilford Brimley in 'Did You Hear About the Morgans?'
Wilford is the real deal. I really, really wound up liking him enormously. And I told him he should write a book. I mean, the guy has worked with John Ford. The range of people he's worked with from John Ford to Sydney Pollack and Ron Howard...
(Laughs) Yeah. I said, "You should write a book." He said, "Who would be interested?" I said, "Everyone who's interested in film would read that book in one second." The few stories he told me, like 'Cocoon' or 'The Natural,' people would eat this up. He said, "Nobody's going to want to read that." I told him that he is so wrong.
Crazy thought: 'Did You Hear About the Morgans?' comes out the same weekend as 'Avatar,' maybe the demographic that doesn't want to see 'Avatar' will see this movie instead? Has the Sony marketing department thought of that?
(Laughs) There's certainly a theory that when something like 'Avatar' comes to the theater it generates theater going and excitement. People come into the theater and you get spillover or they will say, "Let's see that, too." I'm hoping some of that happens. I always imagine that the husbands -- the sci-fi guys that really want to go -- can't get into 'Avatar' and their wives say, "okay, we're going to see this, instead." I can imagine couples breaking up over this. All we want is a tiny piece of what 'Avatar' will do and we'll be very happy.
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