Minnie Driver has had quite the career, and she’s done so rather quietly. She’s racked up nominations for an Emmy (“The Riches”), Golden Globe (“The Riches”), a SAG Award (“Good Will Hunting”) and an Oscar (“Good Will Hunting”). Now she’s in the awards race again with NBC’s “About a Boy” and a new drama airing on Lifetime this Saturday. Driver has better odds for her turn as Maggie Royal in Lifetime’s event film “Return to Zero.” Based on director Sean Hanish’s personal experience with losing a child, the heart-wrenching film marks the network’s first global premiere this Saturday, May 17th.
Driver took a few minutes to talk to Indiewire about the difficulties involved with making the feature, her love of “About a Boy,” and why an Emmy would matter not only to her, but everyone who supported the film.
“Return to Zero” was partially funded through Kickstarter. How did that come about?
We made it as an independent film for nothing over a very short amount of time. As with most independent films, a point before we finished we ran out of money. Well, actually, it was post-production funds. We spent those while we were shooting. So they started this Kickstarter campaign, and the people who contributed were all families who had lost children. The cool thing that Lifetime is doing, which makes me so very happy, is they’re crawling every single one of those people’s names and the names of the children they lost at the end of the film. There is something, I don’t know — I don’t like it when actors aggrandize or consider themselves big spokespeople for things, but occasionally you do stuff that will impact the lives of people who’ve suffered and maybe offer up some comfort. I think it is a beautiful memorial to those people, and, from what I’ve heard, it’s been so wonderfully received and so gratefully received by these big communities of people who’ve lost kids. It’s kind of turned into something amazing. I knew it was going to be tough, but it was far more selfish to begin with.
A lot of the comments I’ve seen on the film’s website and Facebook page relate to that. People sharing stories of their own experiences and the director of “Return to Zero” also sharing his own experience.
I think that’s how people — honestly, from what I’ve realized from people I’ve spoken to and what I’ve observed, it’s telling a story and having someone listen to you and not walk away from what is so hard that has helped people be able to deal with their grief. In this particular situation, it’s very strange because, you know, I know people who’ve lost spouses or have lost friends, and it’s not necessarily talking about it that helps, but in this instance, telling the story and knowing the story is being heard — I think it’s to do with the fact that it’s like the child’s life wasn’t in vain. It meant something. They are remembered, even that their life was brief and only in utero. They mattered and they were loved. It’s been a great sort of meditation on being a person, and not just as an actor. Because as an actor, it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, ever, in my life.
Portraying this person with the director there, on set, as the person who went through it, had to be a difficult task to take on.
It was bizarre. It was utterly surreal. We had long conversations about that to begin with because I said, “Sean, how, when it comes down to it and you’re directing me in these scenes, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be much help to you, like me, Minnie, to you Sean, as a friend, because I’m going to be so deep in there. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be coming up for breath. So how are you going to be able to deal? He was like, “I don’t know. All I know is I want to tell the story and believe that I can, that there’s a power in telling it.” And I was fully prepared for him to have some sort of giant meltdown, which never happened. I think it must have been so hard for him, but he was just consummately professional without being shut down or cold.
There’s a lot of trust there.
I am not a method actor. I don’t go into stuff and just stay there. You go bonkers. You go mad. I mean, look at the actors, I’m sorry, but the actors that do…they…it’s very hard to do that and stay, well, certainly to stay a functioning parent, I’ve found. In this, I didn’t really come out of it the time we were shooting. I was sort of in that head space. I would come home at night and get into bed with my son and just stare at him and listen to him breathing for hours, just trying to calm down and stop my head from going crazy about the eventual outcomes that could happen.
Whatever you did must have worked. You’re getting some early Emmy buzz for your performance.
That would be so amazing. That would just make my everything.
Oh my God. Are you kidding? To do something that — you just know it took everything. That wasn’t just, “Oh, I’m a movie star or I’m an actor and I’ll just show up and do my job,” or, you know, have someone do a big campaign for them. To do something, for nothing, with all your heart and soul with everyone else doing it for nothing with all their heart and soul, to have that recognized, to me that is utterly triumphant, as an artist. That sounds a bit a pretentious…
You hear both sides of it from those in contention, and it’s always hard for me to believe people when they say they don’t care about the awards. It still brings attention to the work as a whole.
It does. It completely does. Listen, it’s not a life or death situation, but it’s certainly an acknowledgement of the work you do. It’s not the most important thing, but gosh — it sure is nice. It sure is validating. If you’re going to go do that stuff anyway, and I am — I mean, I did a movie with Phillip Seymour Hoffman that like five people saw, and he should’ve been nominated for an Oscar, in my opinion. I would go back and make that tomorrow knowing only five people would see it. You’re always going to do it, so then if it gets discovered by an audience or awards wise then it’s just amazing gravy.
Some actors are getting fed up with working in independent film because simply not enough people are seeing them. Is that something you consider when taking on a project?
Well, here’s the thing. So we make this movie for nothing: what’s the best case scenario? The best case scenario is it gets picked up by an independent distributor and it gets shown in two cinemas in Los Angeles and two cinemas in New York for precisely two weeks, and maybe, if you’re lucky, 3,000 people see the film. With this, this simulcast that I know Lifetime has never done before, millions of people are going to see this, which, if you’re a storyteller and that’s what you want, you want to share the stories you tell and let them sort of have a legacy. It’s like if a tree falls in the forest. If I’m telling a story and no one listens to it, it’s still a story [laughs]. So at some point going, it’s fantastic that you make something and millions of people are going to see it, as opposed to sometimes actors get caught up, and I think it’s changed a lot now, the whole notion of, “I’m a film actor, and that’s what I do.” Bollocks. You’re an actor. Go make things that people see. Find your audience. Share those stories. Sure, we’d all like to be Meryl Streep and Brad Pitt and make big movies and that’s great. It’s fantastic, and it’s a beautiful notion that’s always going to be there. But for most actors, it’s not that. You’ve got to work. You’ve got to keep doing your thing and keep being good. […] You know, I’m on a show where I love to go to work every day. It cracks me up. It makes me laugh. It makes me happy. It’s such a good version of my life.
But “About a Boy” has a platform and is being seen. How does that compare to something that’s strugging to get viewers?
Would it be better to get recognized for one over the other?
I care very differently and deeply about each project. I mean, obviously there’s a lot of intimate pain around “Return to Zero” because it’s my friend and the director’s story and he and his wife. Me portraying that felt like a responsibility I’d never had before. And also it was an emotional place I’ve never been to in my life. Like in my real life. That was fucking unchartered territory. I didn’t know what that looked like. How do you do that? How do you do a stillbirth scene? How do you do that? You can’t read a book. You can’t practice it. You can’t figure it out. You can sort of be present with the awful realization of what is happening. So there’s that, and then there’s “About a Boy,” which I love. It is so brilliantly conceived and executed. It is so well written, and for a network show, it gets to have enough of an edge that it’s not just pummeling the audience with saccharine. I feel like it’s vital, and it’s interesting.
So with “About a Boy,” you’d seen the movie before you started?
Tons. I’d seen the movie a hundred times and read the book a hundred times. I’ve just seen it. It’s in my life. It’s one of my go-to films I watch on a Sunday afternoon.
I can’t turn it off.
I can’t either. “Tootsie” is my other go-to I can’t turn off. […] But it’s a bit of a perfect storm. These things happening at once, and I couldn’t be happier because I think they’re both really deserving. You often do stuff, and you know why you did it. If it doesn’t work out, you’re like, “Yeah, you know…” and you’re sort of stretching for the things you want to say positively about it. But the reality with both of these, it’s not a stretch.
Do you have any thoughts on where you want your character to end up on “About a Boy?”
I want her to go to jail. I want her to get arrested for some sort of environmental [cause]. I’m constantly pitching them, “Wouldn’t it be funny with David [Walton] and Ben [Stockham] on the phone with her, and David being like, ‘I never thought it would be you!'” We’re constantly pitching ideas. I think they thought she needed to have more of an outside life [at first], but I think it’s turned out it’s much more fun watching their lives intertwine, David’s character and mine. But we’ll see. It’s going to be a very great slow burn between them.