Subversive Suburbia; Rose Troche on “The Safety of Objects”
by Andrea Meyer
Rose Troche is best known as the writer/director of the groundbreaking lesbian love story “Go Fish,” which premiered at Sundance in 1994. Since then, Troche has made another, little-seen feature, “Bedrooms and Hallways,” about male sexuality; she has an original script in development, “Lucinda’s Changed,” which she says is about “woman as monsteress;” and in April she begins shooting the first-ever lesbian TV series (tentatively called “The L Word”) for Showtime. What may surprise “Go Fish” fans most of all is her current release, “The Safety of Objects,” based on A.M. Homes’ short-story collection of the same name. Of all things, it’s about angst, loss, and heterosexual love in suburbia.
Troche is not just about lesbian movie-making. Before she even starts talking about “The Safety of Objects,” we explore such divergent topics as driving in L.A., female vs. male dating habits, and whether a pint of Haagen Dazs should be considered a serving size. The discovery of a shared passion for large quantities of ice cream segues seamlessly into filmmaking. “When actors have to do sex scenes, they go totally crazy,” Troche says. “When I did ‘Bedrooms and Hallways,’ it was all men and they’d bring weights in and pump up prior to their scene.”
Among an amazing “Safety” cast that includes Glenn Close, Mary Kay Place, Jessica Campbell, Patricia Clarkson, and Timothy Olyphant, apparently Dermot Mulroney — who plays Jim Train, a lawyer having a mid-life crisis — was the one most concerned with his bod. But mainly he wanted to show his off. “He’d say, ‘Oh, I’ll just be in my undies for this’ or ‘I think Jim’s the kind of person who would sleep naked,'” Troche laughs. “I was like, ‘No.'” After a few last comments about the beauty of Mulroney’s physique and a lengthy sidetrack into the many mysteries of gay and straight sexuality, we force ourselves to move on to more mundane subjects.
indieWIRE: Besides getting to hang with Dermot, why exactly did you want to make this movie?
Rose Troche: I’d wanted to do “Safety of Objects” before “Bedrooms and Hallways,” but it didn’t come together. I’d wanted to do it for years. I’m in my 30s. You turn 30, which is depressing, and then 35 is a really crazy thing. I might as well be 40. It gave me this different view on life, that life is so short, which is what “Safety” came out of.
iW: What was A.M. Homes’ involvement in the making of the film?
Troche: The nice thing about A.M. is she realized, like I do, that a book is a book and a movie is a movie. She read a draft, but it wasn’t anything where we got together. The film takes seven out of the eleven stories and conflates them and combines characters. So there’s a story called “Jim Train” about a lawyer. There’s a bomb threat at work and he comes home and doesn’t know what to do with himself, and then there’s another story called “The Bullet Catcher” about this guy who’s bored and goes to the mall with his wife and discovers this contest, and they became the same guy. And he sees a woman with her hands on the car in the contest with her unappreciative daughter, and there’s another story where there’s a young girl masturbating in the backyard and another one where a woman’s son is in a coma. Anyway, Glenn Close becomes the same woman whose hands are on the car and whose son is in a coma. So, that’s what I brought to A.M. I was sort of saying, “These are the characters that I want to combine. She was like, “Wow, okay.” All of her books have been optioned, so she was like, “Knock yourself out.”
iW: You worked with this amazing cast.
Troche: They’re fun. Some of them were so easy and some of them were so hard. So easy was Dermot. He was the first person I went to, and Tim Olyphant was the first person I went to for his part. Jessica Campbell is such a wonderful actor and so fucking underused. Between the time we got done with the movie and when they came in for looping, Jessica had lost all this weight. There’s this thing with these teenage actors, where they think they have to look like a stick. Did you see the cover of Essence with Queen Latifah on the cover? I was like, she doesn’t even look like herself anymore. What’s wrong with just being who you are? You become another skinny bony face. It’s crazy. Jessica is a wonderful actor and I think she feels a pressure to be tiny to get work. I think she could be one of the great American women actors. Then Glenn was extraordinary. That was really hard to cast, because we had gotten a “no” from Glenn’s people. It was one of those Hollywood things, you know: “Glenn Close is passing.” And then we found out that she’d never read it. We got to go back to her. She’s represented by the same agent that represents Killer Films [the company that produced the film]. That’s the funny part. Okay, you guys have the same agent and you’re still getting an agent’s line?
iW: What are you working on now?
Troche: “Lucinda’s Changed” is an original script which is being developed right now with TF1, a French company, because I never get money from the U.S. You have to make it all bubble gum and generic [ideas] here, whereas with the French, you can really say what it’s about, that it’s a feminist piece. That’s been really fun for me to write. I’m doing a draft now. It’s super hard. When Limbo used to be open in the East Village, I would write there. I always work outside of the house. At Limbo, you’re done having all your coffee and you have the shakes, then you can have a glass of wine or a beer, and nobody cares how long you’re there. I would be there, hovering and cutting and taping and probably looking crazy. At Limbo there was always somebody a little on the edge. That was me.
iW: You’ve been working fairly steadily, but it might seem to some people that you haven’t done much since “Go Fish.”
Troche: It’s really funny. As you go through your films, you start meeting the same people again. They’ll be like, “I interviewed you for ‘Bedrooms and Hallways.’ Why so much time?” And I’m like, “You don’t understand. I’m actually working at a steady pace.” For women, there are so many years between feature films. It’s not an even marketplace. Cheryl Dunye, who did “Watermelon Woman” and “Stranger Inside,” just got done shooting a Miramax movie, a “Three Men and a Baby” ghetto-style with Michael Imperioli. And Cheryl’s on an even faster pace of moviemaking. Lisa Cholodenko got done with her second film. It’s extraordinarily difficult to be a filmmaker who tells stories about women.
iW: Would you do more director-for-hire work like you did on “Bedrooms and Hallways”?
Troche: I did 12 drafts of the script, so I can’t really call myself a director for hire, although I would never come up with that story on my own. The challenge was for me to do something to face all my fears. Because I had worked with all women, I think to give myself an entire crew and cast of men was a challenge. It never really got a big release here at all. It had a crappy little release. It’s really done well on HBO and the Sundance Channel. It had more of a life on video sales and DVD.
iW: Can you give me your thoughts on the title “The Safety of Objects”?
Troche: To me the title is about the things we put between ourselves and people, how we surround ourselves with things instead of looking for human contact to comfort us, how things fill in for words, for physical contact. It happens all the time: You get in a fight, you buy them something or take them out to dinner. You have to make sure you follow up a material gesture with something that’s actually real. They become very comforting, very reassuring, the ring on your finger. What did they give you for your birthday? Things become symbolic and I’m not sure they should have that much power.
iW: There’s a lot of religion running through the film. What’s that about?
Troche: Capitalism and Christianity go hand in hand: good people, hardworking, the meek shall inherit the earth, work hard, don’t steal, don’t be too greedy, because we don’t want anyone to steal. We want people to want enough to buy it, but not take it. You want to regulate a person’s desire. If you work hard, you’ll get ahead in your job, just like in Christianity. You’ll inherit heaven, the streets of gold. You’ll get it all if you’re good now. That all serves a Capitalist mentality. Do a good job, shut up, and work hard, and you’ll be rewarded. It’s a system where there’s a larger being watching us. Your boss is God. It’s like Heaven in a microcosm. The whole Christian system in a microcosm is like the factory or the company. God’s in the office down the hall. He’s omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, through his minions, your manager, whatever. It’s exactly like the hierarchy of God’s people. I was in Rome a few weeks ago. I was in the Sistine Chapel looking at the ascent and the descent on the wall and I was like, it’s like a factory. If you don’t do your job right, the little demons get ya, and then you end up booted out on the street, and we value people or devalue people for ascribing to those rules.
iW: What’s the alternative?
Troche: That this is all random. It’s so hard to believe this is all random, because it makes our lives seem like they’re not worth anything. We feel like there has to be an order, a larger picture. If we believe it’s all random and I could be the best person in the world and I could get cancer tomorrow or get run over by a truck or lose the person that I love. When we lose the person we love, we always think, “Why me?” As if someone has weights and measures somewhere of how much good you’ve done in your life and how much bad. I do think there’s something to be said for that, because I don’t think you should be a crappy person. I think there’s a larger community in which we all need to try and be good people. But the idea that there’s a reward, a paycheck, is a false idea. Sometimes I get embarrassed because I grew up very religious and I’m not anymore, but I think these things always seep in. I’m just trying to dismantle all that.