Anand Tucker and Rachel Griffiths Tell All About "Hilary and Jackie"
By Stephen Garrett
Among the last movies released in the bumper crop of Oscar-qualifying
year-end deliveries was October Films’ “Hilary and Jackie,” opening
wider today, the true story of two sisters, one of whom is the
world-famous cellist Jacqueline Du Pre, who slowly lost her ability to
play music from a crippling case of multiple sclerosis that eventually
took her life in the mid-1980s. Emily Watson plays the wild, needy, and
volcanic Jackie, while Australian actress Rachel Griffiths plays the
mousy wallflower Hilary in director Anand Tucker’s emotional symphony of
sibling rivalry and tortured heartbreak, based on the book “A Genius in
the Family,” by Hilary and Piers du Pre. indieWIRE caught up with both
Tucker and Griffiths in-between screenings at the Toronto Film Festival
last Fall to chat about the film’s unique story structure, and elegant
dance between performance and camerawork.
indieWIRE: Let’s start by talking about your performance, Rachel.
Rachel Griffiths: [Pointing at Tucker] Yeah, well, ask him about it!
iW: Anand, in terms of directing Rachel with Emily Watson, it must be a
challenge to coach a quiet performance from Rachel that won’t get
overwhelmed by someone as flamboyant as Emily’s character.
Anand Tucker: Well, to be honest, the emotional heart of the movie, the
kind of center of the movie, is Rachel. Emily gets to be mad, sad,
crazy, wild; but if she didn’t have this incredible central power from
Rachel holding the film together, the whole thing would fall to pieces.
[To Rachel] And if you don’t mind my saying, Rachel, what you do have is
an amazing power — there’s an incredible strength to your acting.
iW: There’s a real gravity to what you bring to the film, Rachel. How
did you prepare for that sort of role?There’s a real gravity to what you bring to the film, Rachel. How
did you prepare for that sort of role?
Griffiths: Well, I don’t really do a lot of gymnastics — my approach to
anything is to just completely understand why people do what they do and
to kind of not judge that. Although I might have, as a modern young
woman, said, “How did this woman throw away her musical career and get
bogged down with having kids and put up with her nightmare sister?”,
that’s not going to get me anywhere.
So you just kind of open your heart to the notion of love and look
around you at complex families that you know, or intense sibling
relationships that you’ve experienced, which I had, and you just make it
more and more familiar and real and personal, so nothing is like an idea
— it’s all emotional. We never sat down and intellectualized. Emily
and I never sat down and said, “Well, I’ll do this and you do that.” We
just seemed to all come at it with this, just, head-turned-off,
heart-open, and played our needs. We all just played our positions.
And both Emily and I were aware that Anand’s great gift as a director is
his ability to shift subjectivity, and it’s a non-judgmental film. It’s
basically saying that we all struggle the best we can — families are
very, very complex. We do the best we can given the knowledge we have
and the sort of person we are. I like to think that this film is about
what happens when someone takes up more room in the family, either
through extraordinary ability, through disability, or through some kind
of psychological fragility. And when that happens in a family, it
changes the family, that family is a different kind of beast because
there is this element that has more needs. And that’s not necessarily to
the family’s disadvantage — the family just is what it is. It’s the
whole of the sum of its parts.
iW: And the film’s storytelling strength comes from the sum of its
subjective parts — by seeing multiple point-of-views, the audience
gains a greater sense of objectivity about the family. Anand, at what
point in the film’s production was that decision made?
Tucker: It was completely a script decision — and it wasn’t my idea; it
was screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce’s. We spent a year doing research
and talking to Hilary Du Pre and loads of people who knew Hilary and
Jackie, and we talked and talked about how to make this film. And we
were both trying to make a film from the heart. And Frank finally said,
“Why don’t we just show what it feels like to be Hilary, and then show
what it feels like to be Jackie?” And that’s what it’s like in
Griffiths: And no one ever remembers the hurt they cause — they only
remember the hurt they feel.
Tucker: So it was completely not an intellectual decision or anything
like that. It was a feeling decision. Someone said to me that the film
is a melodrama, and I thought, “fantastic.” Because melodramas are
about trying to reach a bigger truth about emotions. But going back to
Rachel — frankly she would know what was right or wrong on set, and if
things weren’t working, I would take my lead from Rachel’s instincts.
We trusted each other, didn’t we? Because half the time, I didn’t know
what the fuck was right or wrong. And sometimes they didn’t know, and
together we would figure it out.
Griffiths: And Anand is “Mr. One-take,” and I realized that Emily and I
are both kind of one-takers, but at the time we would say, “Should we do
another, just for the hell of it?” And we would, and then Anand would
say, “That’s it! Let’s move on.” And Emily and I used to have secret
conversations — “What’s with this one-take business? Has he got no
standards? Or are we geniuses?”
iW: [Laughs] But that way you and Emily bonded, though, right?
Griffiths: We did! We did. But when we knew there wasn’t something
there, Anand would make us articulate what we were trying to hit in the
scene, which is sometimes incredibly subtle stuff.
Tucker: But I love chaos. And we didn’t rehearse before production —
Griffiths: Yeah. We were bad on rehearsals.
Tucker: But that’s good!
Griffiths: And Emily got trained on Lars Von Trier’s films, so she was
horrified to discover that you ever had to hit a mark as an actor! She
thought you’d do a film with an actor, and this film crew would run
after you. “What? I have to stand on a mark? But you follow me
around!” She was fucked. Completely. I mean, it’s amazing that given
we didn’t rehearse, there is such a control in the camera.
Tucker: Oh, no, no — but this is the key to it. I think that if you
cast it right, if the people are essentially being themselves, then
there is a truth in there. And if you trust that, it’ll happen. And
the job of the technical team is to make the camera dance with that.
iW: And one of the most impressive aspects of the film was the
camerawork — I mean, that camera moved around a lot. To block those
scenes must have been a real challenge. And visually there were some
very expressionistic shots.
Tucker: Well, we had a plan — everything was storyboarded, but you
have to be prepared to chuck it out the window when you get there.
iW: And your previous film, “Saint-Ex,” is just as beautifully shot and
Tucker: I think I threw the kitchen sink at it a bit [laughs]. I was
trying too hard, you know. But I remember Bruno Ganz [the star of
“Saint-Ex”] saying to me, “You make me feel like a butterfly! You pin
me to the wall!” And he wasn’t used to that at all — he used to say,
“Oh, Wim [Wenders] and I — “[everyone laughs] “Oh, way back with Wim!”
iW: Yeah, and I bet Emily pulled that stuff, too!
Griffiths: Yeah, she did! “Von Trier and me!” [Laughs] She kind of
championed me on this film, which made me adore her for the rest of my
life. And I was such a fan of her in “Breaking the Waves.” But I think
Emily really needs to do a comedy just so that she can really find out
that filmmaking can be fun.
Tucker: But the production was really punishing — six-day weeks for
eight weeks. But we made the movie the way we wanted to make it. And it
was like making three different films, including the film with the kids,
the film about Hilary, and the film about Jackie. And sometimes none of
these people met — it was weird.
iW: Rachel, did you ever meet Hilary before finishing the movie?
Griffiths: No. And definitely not to prepare for the role, either.
And I knew I was right not to meet her when in the movie we were sitting
down to dinner and David Morrissey complained about the chicken being
served since, in real life, his character Kiffer Finzi was a
vegetarian. I just thought, “Oh, fucking eat your chicken!” [Laughs]
And I was so glad I wasn’t bogged down with the particular details.
Tucker: But after Hilary du Pre had seen the film, she called David and
said to him, “You know, Kiffer, you were David, completely. But there’s
only one thing — one thing! — you didn’t get right. Kiffer doesn’t
have a hairy back.” [Everyone laughs].
Griffiths: He should have waxed!
iW: He should have waxed.
Griffiths: Did she say there was anything I didn’t get right?
Tucker: No — she though you were perfect.
Griffiths: Yeah, well, she’s better looking and her tits are bigger —
what’s she got to complain about? [laughs]. But I came to this film
completely ignorant about Hilary and Jackie du Pre. And when I heard
about the picture, I thought, “ugh, a bio-pic about a cellist who gets
M.S. Who cares?” I thought it was a movie-of-the-week; why do it? And
then I read the script and realized that the story does have this