by sam levinson
photography by brian bowen smith | November 29, 2011 | People
ON ELLEN: Long satin dress, L’Wren Scott (price on request). Barneys New York, 660 Madison Ave.,
212-826-8900. Velvet sandals, Roger Vivier ($875). 750 Madison Ave., 212-861-5371. ON DEMI: Skirt, dress, and satin bra, Givenchy ($5,445). Bergdorf Goodman, 754 Fifth Ave., 800-558-1855. Patent-leather Alti pumps, Christian Louboutin ($895). 965 Madison Ave., 212-396-1884. Rings, Moore’s own
When I think of Ellen Barkin and Demi Moore, I can’t help but look at them as any audience member might—as two fearless women who’ve managed to maintain their respective and powerful voices amid the din of static that drowned out so many beautiful talents of their time.
I am only starting to learn how the film business works, but I can say from first-hand experience working with these two incredible actresses, what’s astounding to see and feel is that mysterious, almost indescribable force, that they have nurtured and sharpened into an ability to never give up and to never bow out.
And with no compliment to myself, to hear them say that after 30 years in film, their work in Another Happy Day is among their proudest, is a testament not to my film but to their tenacity and power as women and as artists, who are quite possibly just approaching their peak.
These are actors who came out of the same times and, despite very different paths, now stand alongside each other in this film—bringing everything they’ve absorbed along the way.
SAM LEVINSON: Mothers in general drive us crazy. As actors who play mothers in this film, and as women who are mothers in real life, do you fear that perception?
ELLE BARKIN: In other words, will our children say we’re driving them crazy? I think inherent in the job of mothering is that you must drive your kids crazy.
DEMI MOORE: And that you’ll make mistakes. As much as you do not ever want to make mistakes, I think inevitably you will do something that has affected your children in a way you never intended.
EB: That’s what was interesting about my role in Another Happy Day—I was actually playing a mother who had all the best intentions and approached things horribly. I actually love that question because I can speak about it personally, but I can also speak about it very specifically in terms of this film. I don’t think any of us have ill intentions concerning our children unless you’re a horrible person. I know in my real life I’ve gotten it wrong, but what do you do? Nobody’s perfect. You apologize, you try to explain your motives, you hope you’re forgiven and that the damage you think you’ve done or might have actually done is not too profound.
DM: What’s interesting in the film is that these two women have some opposition, but the truth is that they’re both seeking the same thing, which is just to be heard and to be appreciated. And if you really look, in a way it is the thread tying everybody together.
|Draped silk tulle dress with crystal beaded detail, Marchesa (price on request). Nude and black pumps, Nicholas Kirkwood ($795). Saks Fifth Avenue, 611 Fifth Ave., 212-753-4000. Rings, Moore’s own|
SL: When I wrote the script I didn’t want it to be a judgmental film in any way; I tried to be as objective as I could.
DM: I think that you accomplished that. You really tried to bring forth something that allowed for the audience to see good, bad, ugly, indifferent in each person and allow them to relate in any way they connected. I think that’s so fresh and honest and very authentic to the story you were trying to tell. In a way everyone has a moment where they’re a villain, and everyone has a moment where they’re a hero. And I think that’s more true to who we are in life and not so much in what we see in film.
EB: It seems that the only taboo subject in a movie is bad mothering. You can be a serial killer, but you’re not allowed to be a bad mother. You get beat with the stick. We saw that at Sundance—a woman stood up and started screaming at me, “I’ve always had so much respect for you and now I don’t. How dare you play this mother who makes all these mistakes? How dare you make that statement about mothers?” Then some other guy yelled at her, and I said you know what, just the fact that you two are having this conversation means that we all did our job. Because I do think it’s something that Sam did very courageously and, quite honestly, that Demi and I did very courageously. And it wasn’t easy.
DM: It’s really hard as a mother to play a character who is a mother with faults. We do make mistakes. It’s not the mistakes that define us; it is what we do with them.
SL: My other question would be, which I think is another central question to this film, how do you learn to accept the people around you, like your family, and love them despite their flaws that may hurt you?
DM: At the end of the day, why do we see it as our job to fix other people in our lives, as opposed to just taking care of ourselves? I think that’s one of the fatal, almost catastrophic, elements in family dynamics, this idea that “if I can fix my mother, then I’m fixed.” And the truth is, that is the illusion; that’s not my job.
EB: We raise our kids as best we can, but at some point, we’re no longer responsible for their actions. My mother did whatever she did, but I can’t ultimately, at 57 years old, blame my mistakes on my mother. It’s like the parent who has the screaming four-year-old and is constantly apologizing. Maybe it’s not your fault; maybe your four-year-old just needs to scream. I think it’s something that our generation of parents—and I’m the generation older than Demi—I think the universal common thread is that our parents mostly ignored us. Nobody did homework with us, nobody arranged play dates for us.
DM: I never knew what a play date was until I had kids!
EB: In response to the parental abandonment we have felt, we have overinvolved ourselves and overinvested ourselves in our children’s lives, so that you wind up with is a bunch of 18- to 28-year-olds who not only don’t take responsibility for their actions, but can’t actually act because we’ve been doing it for them. That’s been my biggest struggle as a mother, and it is the thing I can say I’ve been successful at. Maybe I went too far on the other end, but I stayed out of my kids’ lives, with the exception of what I thought was healthy, and let them find their own way. I didn’t ask who their boyfriend was, nor did I want to tell them how to have those relationships. It’s definitely [my character] Lynn’s biggest problem in Another Happy Day, that she is so overinvested in controlling the kids, the mother, her ex-husband, his wife…
DM: I always say the process of parenting, from the moment that they leave your body and enter this world, is a process of letting go. The only time we really have them is when they’re within our body.
|Long satin dress, L’Wren Scott (price on request). Barneys New York, 660 Madison Ave., 212-826-8900. Velvet sandals, Roger Vivier ($875). 750 Madison Ave., 212-861-5371|
SL: Both of you are such formidable forces as women on-screen. I’ve noticed that in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s you had strong women in films, not girls playing women. And that disappeared for a while. I credit both of you with bringing back that idea of being a woman in film in the ’80s and ’90s. I’m curious what your thoughts are, that in the last 10 years women have allowed themselves to be portrayed as little girls.
EB: It’s an industry, like most, that is dominated by men. Men in general are fearful of strong women, so they don’t necessarily want to see them on the movie screen. They like, as I always say, a girl that can cry, which I certainly did my fair share of. But I think the advent of the sexual thriller, which Demi and I have both participated in, became its own successful genre. You can’t have a sexual thriller with a little girl; you need a woman. You need someone who looks like, not only can I take care of myself, I can take care of you, and if you cross me I can hurt you. I’m proud of our generation of actresses for holding on to their womanhood as opposed to their girlishness.
DM: The truth is that the little girl exists in all women, so it should have as much permission as the woman who is strong and independent. The little girl doesn’t necessarily mean she has to be weak, it’s just an aspect. It’s just when that aspect becomes the entire story….
SL: Or the cultural narrative…
EB: And why can’t we be both at the same time? Why can’t I have needs to be met and also be able to take care of myself? That’s something I struggle with in life, and certainly something I try to fight on film, which is what I loved about your movie, Sam. I got to explore the idea of what if that whole other part of me was gone, and it was just the need for approval.
DM: Which you do beautifully. The level of pain you feel in Lynn’s desperation to get some acknowledgement, and to be so splayed out there is beautiful and tragic.
EB: I relied heavily on my costumes, because I thought if I dress like a little girl, I’ll act like a little girl. I wore dresses that I would never wear in real life.
DM: It’s interesting what you said about the costumes, because I felt a similar thing. The costumes pushed me to be in the body of my character in a way that is not comfortable for me. It pushed me out of myself in that way; [my character] Patty was somebody who says, “Hey, look at me. I’m taking up space,” and that’s very difficult for me in real life.
EB: It’s a key phrase for me. I’m not somebody who particularly liked being pregnant. You know what I liked about it? That I was bigger. I got more room, and for the first time in my life, people were going to have to move over for me to be able to fit into the seat.
DM: I wanted to add about the movie, I really feel like this is a contemporary Ordinary People. It has that kind of honest discomfort of family, that doesn’t wrap it up in a nice neat bow but doesn’t leave you feeling hopeless about the potential for progress.
ON ELLEN: Silk gown with lace overlay, Alberta Ferretti ($4,345). Cuff, Bottega Venetta ($4,380). 699 Fifth Ave., 212-371-5511. ON DEMI: Lace dress, Dolce & Gabbana ($2,395). 825 Madison Ave., 212-249-4100. Rings, Moore’s own
SL: As a director I strongly believe that it’s not my job to crush the audiences’ imagination after they leave the film by tying it up in a bow. That’s the beauty of independent cinema; you can get away with that. To ask another question about New York, my hometown and Ellen’s as well, what does New York bring to your work?
DM: I don’t live here full-time, but I look back and think of the very first time I went to New York. I was 18 years old, and it was so out of my cultural context—I was overwhelmed and intimidated and afraid. It didn’t operate like anything I knew. Now it’s become a very liberating place, because there is no other place where such an enormous cross-cultural mix of people are just out in the world with each other. EB: Having been born and raised here and never leaving, not even for college, everything I do is infused with my New York-ness. I can’t separate myself from New York; it is me in so many ways. Of course it defines my work, because to go back to what Demi just said, it’s the perfect connection. I have been exposed to a very cross-cultural socioeconomic world. That’s the world I grew up in, and I’ve been informed in a much broader way than I would have been if I grew up on a pig farm somewhere.
DM: It definitely gives you a certain strength and confidence to move about the world when you are in New York. You walk out your door, and that means you are coexisting with other people in a way that forces you to feel more of the world. That actually gives you great energy, a different level of compassion. At the same time it can make you feel guarded and protective, because you are so exposed.
Styling by Julie Matos, Ford Artists NYC
Demi’s hair by Giannandrea at The Wall Group
Demi’s makeup by Christian McCulloch using Chanel
Nails by Gina Viviano using Chanel
Ellen’s hair by Miki for Redken
Ellen’s makeup by Angela Levin for Chanel at traceymattingly.com