A Conversation with Bob Gosse and Robin Tunney from
by Andrea Meyer
“Niagara, Niagara” stars Henry Thomas and Robin Tunney.
Photo Credit: John Bernstein
A young guy meets a young girl, and they hit the road. Two outsiders in
love escape the tedium of their lives and end up discovering intimacy,
petty crime, and adventure as they race dead-on towards the inevitable
tragedy that awaits them. This revamping of “They Live by Night” has an
original twist: Marcy, the girl misfit in Bob Gosse’s “Niagara Niagara,”
opening this Friday in New York and LA, has Tourette Syndrome. The
disease, compounded by an aggressive-compulsive disorder, makes her
twitch, shout obscenities, tidy up like crazy, and occasionally beat
Bob Gosse’s first feature for theatrical release stars Robin Tunney
(“The Craft“), whose startling performance won her the Best Actress
Award at the 1997 Venice Film Festival, and Henry Thomas (“ET,” “Legends
of the Fall“). The soundtrack, which has already gotten considerable
attention, will be available in April. Gosse’s background is production,
including collaboration on [his cousin] Hal Hartley’s “The Unbelievable
Truth” and “Trust” and producing several films, including Nick Gomez’
“Laws of Gravity” and “New Jersey Drive,” as co-founder of The Shooting
Gallery. The company financed and will also be distributing the film. He
also directed “The Last Home Run” for cable. Gosse’s next project will
be directing a script he wrote based on “A Violent Act“, Alec
Wilkinson’s non-fiction account of a series of murders that took place
in the mid-west in 1986.
indieWIRE: Why this script?
Bob Gosse: It fascinated me because of the woman’s role of Marcy. Not
only the fact that she had this disorder but that she was a really
great, rich, funny, smart, decisive female character, and I hadn’t read
a script in awhile that had such a strong female lead. I could wrap my
head around it. And when I first read it, I thought the Tourette
Syndrome was a great spin on this whole road movie, love story angle in
a darkly comic way. And once I got an understanding of what the disorder
was, this complete uninhibited release of energy, then I really got
excited about the script and decided to pursue it as a film. Then it
became more about the love story, the tragic element.
iW: How is Tourette Syndrome a metaphor for some element of that love
Gosse: It spoke to this freedom, this lack of inhibitions, the ability
to just be what you are in a very metaphorical sense. And by being that
free, you are considered a misfit. Your uniqueness was that which
condemned you to this “freak.” But it was also connected to what Niagara
Falls represented to me. The first impression I had when I went to scout
the falls was that it was this huge, chaotic, violent, overwhelming but
beautiful thing. So it represented what she was to me — this violent,
chaotic woman but also beautiful in her uniqueness.
iW: What was it like to play such a tragic character?
Robin Tunney: I don’t think that Tourette is what made her tragic. I
think that the way the world reacts to people who have it is tragic. I
did a lot of research, and the people I talked to who had it, none of
them really felt sorry for themselves. It’s something that’s so much a
part of you that you accept it. You have to. The way that people react
is tragic. I don’t think they mind ticking. I think that all of Marcy’s
problems come up are because of the way people react to her. It’s made
her an outsider, a misfit.
iW: How did you prepare to play someone with Tourette?
Tunney: In rehearsal, we did everything in the movie three times without
tics, and the second week we introduced new tics everyday and tried
every one and videotaped them and came up with four that would be
iW: They weren’t written into the script?
Gosse: She’d have this line of dialogue and then parenthetically “she
Tunney: Or “she barks.”
iW: That’s pretty funny.
Tunney: It’s weird because I think initially it is funny. And I think
the people who suffer from it have a very good sense of humor.
Gosse: You have to appreciate the humor that the disorder can introduce
to a situation, and acknowledge its inappropriateness at times. It’s
denial not to acknowledge it.
Tunney: Also I went to the script before and numbered each scene 1-10
for the intensity of the Tourette, because we didn’t have the luxury of
shooting in order. So, you had to constantly remind yourself. So, we’d
number them and do it and I’d have 6 written on my script and Bob would
say, “give me 7.”
iW: How did you cast Robin?
Gosse: I had met Robin, just socially in New York, hanging out. Around
the time I met her, I read the script, and because of the character
description, I saw her in my head as I read it. So then when they said
we need financing, let’s get a casting list, I always had Robin’s name
on this list of four or five actresses, along with the usual suspects —
Juliette Lewis, Kate Winslet, yadda yadda yadda — and everyone was
like, “Who’s Robin Tunney? We can’t get any money, nobody knows who she
is.” And then “The Craft” came out, and had the biggest opening that
weekend. So everybody said, “What about Robin Tunney?”
iW: What did “The Craft” do for your career?
Tunney: A lot. It made the people who financed this movie want to hire
me. And it makes you a little bit of a public figure. When I read that
script, I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into. I mean,
imagine, a teenage witch story! There’s this thing about trust that lent
to “Niagara,” because on certain takes I really went for it and I’m sure
looked like a Spanish soap opera actress or felt like one, because it
wasn’t real and there was nothing subtle about it or something you could
relate it to in your own life. Oh, my three best friends are hanging
from the ceiling and killed my parents. How did I feel the last time
that happened? But it lent itself to Niagara, because I went for it with
Andy (Flemming), and it totally worked. And there’s nothing better than
a twelve year-old girl running up to you and saying, “I love you. . . I
love you. . . and the part when. . . how did you make them float?” It’s
sweet, and they’re such loyal fans. There’s nothing jaded about them —
“You get to kiss Skeet. What was that like?”