Last week saw the release of “Darling Companion,” the first film from writer/director Lawrence Kasdan in nine years. The film tells the story of Beth (Diane Keaton) and her husband Joseph’s (Kevin Kline) dog getting lost in the mountains after their daughter’s wedding. The couple, their family, and friends spend the next week searching for the dog, a quest that puts all their relationships into question. We had a chance to talk to the director during the San Francisco International Film Festival where the film was playing.
For the first time since his 1991 film “Grand Canyon,” Kasdan shares a writing credit on a film with his wife Meg Kasdan. Together they shared an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay as a result of their efforts last time around. While it’s no coincidence that they have once again teamed up to tell a story together, the director considers himself to be in a constant collaboration with his wife, saying, “It was a good experience doing ‘Grand Canyon’ but we’ve had a lot of good experiences. We’ve been married for 40 years. ‘Grand Canyon’ was very satisfying but so was raising two children and having a grandchild and all the things that you get when you’re lucky enough to have a good relationship for a long time. It was a very organic turn in our relationship that we would work together again.”
“Darling Companion” boasts a cast of actors with an impressive collection of Academy Award and Emmy wins and nominations between them with Kevin Kline (“A Fish Called Wanda”), Diane Keaton (“Annie Hall,” “Something’s Gotta Give”), Dianne Wiest (“Hannah and Her Sisters,” “Bullets Over Broadway”), Richard Jenkins (“The Visitor”) and Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”). Their parts feel tailored to their capabilities, but Kasdan reveals that casting doesn’t direct the writing process, explaining, “I never think about casting when I’m writing. There’s so many good actors and so few good parts. When you’ve gotten to the point where you’ve actually written something, which is the really hard part, the casting is like the reward you get and you get to put wonderful people in there. In all these movies I’ve made I’ve only thought about two or three roles ahead of time.”
Compartmentalizing the filmmaking process doesn’t discourage the director from having very specific casting decisions in mind once he gets to that stage. As he hunts for the right talent, he takes the opportunity to collaborate with talent that he’s been trying to sync up with through his whole career and “Darling Companion” became an opportunity to finally connect some of those dots. Kasdan speaks gratefully about his cast, saying, “…there are people like Diane Keaton or Wiest who I’ve wanted to work with for 30 years and never got a chance to. And it’s a thrill when you have a part that can attract them. Everybody that came on to this movie did it for scale; there was no money. The only traction they had was — did they like the material, did they want to work with this group? And they all did, it was kind of fantastic, we got everybody we wanted. These are all people I’ve either known or wanted to work with for a long time.”
Beyond all the actors that might be familiar to a broader audience in “Darling Companion,” Mark Duplass stands out as a fresh face amongst the core ensemble. It’d be hard to find a big festival in the last few years that Duplass hasn’t had a film with an acting, writing, directing, or producing credit in, but his presence feels like new territory for the actor when seen in a cast with the likes of Kline and Keaton. It turns out Kasdan has been aware of Duplass’ work for several years, as he explains, “I had seen ‘The Puffy Chair’ when it first came out and I had seen a couple more of their movies. He’s a fascinating guy, Mark, and a terrific guy. When this script went out to be cast he approached us. I don’t know if I would ever have thought of him. Our casting director said, ‘Mark Duplass read this script and really wants to meet with you on it.’ He was actually the second guy we met for the part and I don’t think we met anyone else after that. I was so taken with Mark. He was so natural and he had never been in a movie like this. The things I had seen him in were original and fresh. He was just the right quality to sit within this group of very, very experienced actors and he’s from an entirely different background.”
On the loosely defined genre that Duplass has most been connected with, a type of film that co-star Kline recently admitted he finds mostly intolerable, Kasdan expresses an interest, noting, “I’ve seen ‘Hannah Takes the Stairs’ and several others. I find it fascinating. I like mumblecore. I like how loose it is; I like the feeling of spontaneity. I like all kinds of movies; I’m drawn to a huge variety of movies.” He doesn’t see any resentment between the two actors working styles though, remembering, “The whole cast was a fun group, they loved each other, they were drawn to working with each other. Kevin and Mark got along very well and are very friendly now. I think he was quite taken with what Mark did in the movie.”
In the past Kasdan has created films at a significantly higher budget level than “Darling Companion,” for example his last film, “Dreamcatcher,” which was released back in 2003. The director feels that while his interest in films has remained the same, the industry’s focus has taken a path in a direction opposite of his own, explaining, “Hollywood is not really making the kind of movies that I’ve always made. The first ten movies I made were all within the studio system and for a lot of those movies, ‘The Big Chill’ and ‘Body Heat’ and the ‘The Accidental Tourist,’ they were comedies or dramas about people. The studios don’t really do that too much anymore; they’re into another kind of movie. Some of which I like very much, but they’re gigantically expensive extravaganzas and they tend not to be human scale. So it seems to me that my future is a place where they’re still making movies like that, which is the indie world.”
Despite seeing his future outside of the studio system, Kasdan is still interested in branching out. There is even a surprising animated sequence that pops up within “Darling Companion” about which Kasdan reveals, “It’s the first time I’ve ever done it and I loved doing it. I always saw it as primitive animation, which I’m drawn to.” As we previously reported, Kasdan will next be tackling a thriller, which the director declares is, “a little different than anything I’ve done before, it’s the closest probably to ‘Body Heat.’ Harlan Coben, who is a wonderful thriller novelist, wrote the book which ‘Tell No One’ is based. He has a new best seller, which is on the best seller list right now, and he and I are collaborating on an adaptation of that book which is called, ‘Stay Close.’ It’s a very dark, Hitchcockian thriller set in New Jersey and I’m in the middle of that screenplay right now.”
“Darling Companion” is now playing in New York and Los Angeles and start to roll out wider this coming Friday. The San Francisco International Film Festival continues through May 3rd.