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Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Rosanna Arquette starring as herself

It was sometime earlier this year -- I forget if I was talking to French director Katherine Breillat, or New Zealand's Jane Campion -- when it dawned on me that in a decade of covering film and filmmakers, I'd never met a female director from the United States. I've talked to ones from Canada, India, England, even Iran, but not one from Hollywood.

Now that's a fact that speaks for itself. Thus it was with great interest that I sat down to talk with Rosanna Arquette, who is not only an American actress-turned-director, but also has plenty to say on why women aren't getting a fair shake in the United States.I'm also pleased to report that Arquette is as charming and down-to-earth in person as she appears on film . . .

So your film's opening in Japan before the States?

Yeah. In America, it's going on Showtime, on television. I always knew that's the way it was gonna go in America. People don't have much of an attention span, as you can see by the movies being made.

You'll probably get a larger audience on cable than you would if you opened it in the art-houses.

Yeah. Because, first of all the movies are really expensive, and people just aren't going as much anymore, they're just waiting for them to be on TV. They just don't go anymore unless it's a big "Hulk" or something like that.

Well, that's kind of like "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her." It did quite well in Tokyo, but couldn't get a theatrical release in the U.S. because it was pegged as a "women's film," and ended up on HBO.

Well, in America, you have these big corporations taking over everything, and in the cinema world, you have these businessmen that have nothing to do with filmmaking, and there are very few artists left controlling things, so it's a real struggle.

What do you think it will be the effect of a film like "The Hours"? Do you think will open some doors for films with well-written roles for women?

We can only hope and pray! When a small film gets acclaim like that it's exciting and great. But Nicole [Kidman] and Julianne Moore have really beautiful careers because they tend to go really commercial and then do an art film, balancing it.

Let me offer another sort of example: "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" . . .

I just saw it. I gotta say, I have a lot to say about this movie. Did you see it?


Did you hate it?

Ummm . . . I'm just gonna shut up and let you talk.

OK, well, they're all friends of mine, but I saw it, and yeah, it's a cartoon. But I had a great time, I loved that it was powerful women, kicking the shit out of men. [Laughs all round.] But I loved that Drew was in her own body, and it was not anorexic-skinny-perfect, it was voluptuous, and some people may say "chubby," but it's not. It's sexy. And she went out there and said, "This is who I am, and this is my body" and went against the whole perfect-skinny thing, and I think that's really important for American girls, who are really hung up on that. For that alone, it was important. I usually don't like films like that at all, but it was great, women comfortable in their own skin.

So how long did you kick around the idea for "Searching for Debra Winger" before you finally decided to do it?

Four or five years. It was germinating in my head. The older I got, the more I felt like doing it. I was back from Europe, had my child, was looking at the state of the art in Hollywood, and women not seeming to be respected once you hit a certain age. And it's getting younger and younger now! Forty was always like, "Oh God, she's 40," but now that's happening at 35 or 30 -- it's really crazy! So I really just wanted to discuss with women how do you balance your art with your lives and your work, that was a big theme. Because I know a lot of people are focusing on just the aging thing, which is not really what it is, because I've got Gwyneth and younger actresses in there as well. It's just balance. And I've found that a lot of women who aren't actors, just normal working women, are affected by it and feel that it speaks to them, too. It's actually about working women.

In terms of barriers, trying to maintain a family and a career at the same time is one, but how about the people who are running the industry and the sort of roles they're putting out there?

Most of the roles out there are extremely uninteresting. I am finding my own niche in that I'm not afraid to be my age on film. I know there are a lot of women in my age range who will not play a mother of an 18- or 20-year-old. I played Angelina Jolie's mother six years ago! And I just did a film called "Iowa," with a new director called Matt Farnsworth who's going to be incredible, about the crack houses in middle America. People don't even know these exist, just housewives, in their barns, making crack! It's very scary! This guy just went in and filmed right where it's taking place, and I played this crack-addict mother.

How did you prepare for that role?

Well, they sent me the script, and it was one of those things where . . . I was just in the mood! [Laughs.] In the mood to throw myself into something challenging. I know people who've had drug addiction problems, so I talked to them, and just went in there and . . . it was like a muse, somebody just spoke through me, I don't where all this stuff came from, it was really strange. I used to prepare really heavily for films, do a lot of research, but now, I dunno, it's almost like an instinctual thing that just happens. I don't know if it's age or experience . . . it's effortless.

You must get more of a rush that way.

I do. But I did that with my film. I had no idea where this search, this journey was going to take me. And I never intended to be in it as an actress, as an interviewer -- I was going to have Carrie Fisher do it. But I couldn't get Carrie, and then people were saying "you should do this." But I didn't know how to do it without being self-serving. But it ended up being my story, talking to these women. I just decided to put myself out there.

But I think it works better by having your voice in it, it's more honest, more personal.

Yeah. It was actually Debra who kept saying, "you gotta be in it." And it really did unfold in the editing room. I had no idea, really, the questions I was gonna ask. I just sat down with [the actresses] and started talking about themes. And putting it together was 158 hours of footage edited down to an hour and a half.

Well, you're sorted for the DVD extras . . . [Laughs.] How long did that take? Months?

We started in March 2001, and finished the real editing in November. Gail Yoshinaga, my editor, had a great vibe with me, so she'd sift through and piece together stuff, and I'd correct and add different things. For months there was this one moment that we could never find, but I knew, "I have to have this! I know it exists!" It was making us crazy, searching through hours and hours of footage. We finally got it. It was Vanessa Redgrave, saying, "I'd like to retire, but I can't afford to!" [Groans.] Oh my God. Y'know, all these years after busting her ass . . . I needed that in there.

When you were cutting it, was there anything you felt you'd better not leave in?


Roger Ebert came pretty close to self-destructing.

Yeah, but he was my only guy in there! Unfortunately, at the time, I had these male producers, that were -- for lack of a better word -- misogynistic. [Laughs.] And they had a voice in it, coming in and saying, "Ah, I don't like this." In looking back on it, there was one scene, if I was a neutral journalist and it wasn't me in there, I definitely would have kept it. But I was afraid it would come off as self-serving. It was me and Jane Fonda, this intense moment of bonding that was so heavy, where we were weeping, both of us. It was amazing and beautiful, but because it was me and I was directing it, I had to get rid of it.

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