Todd Field

Todd Field

Up until now Todd Field’s main claim to fame is as
the actor who played the decadent, piano-playing pal of Tom Cruise
in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. Field’s first acting
breakthrough was in Victor Nunez’s 1993 Ruby in Paradise,
where he played a dreamer in a sleepy little town on Florida’s Gulf
Coast who falls in love with a shopgirl (Ashley Judd) running from
her past. Then there was a turn as the tornado chaser in the big-budget
movie Twister (1994). It was in Nunez’s sleeper that Field
learned how to make a movie on a shoestring-which inspired him to
make the kind of intimate movie he now seems born to direct.

If up to now Field has been known primarily as an
actor, all that has now changed with In the Bedroom, his
feature debut. The movie, about a married couple’s attempt to deal
with their grief after their son’s death, garnered a special jury
prize for acting for the film’s stars, Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson.
There is already Oscar talk; Spacek hasn’t had a role as juicy since
her Academy Award-winning turn in Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980).
Wilkinson, best known as the conservative Englishman in The Full
, is a surprise in a stunningly understated performance
as a grief-stricken town doctor trying to keep marriage and life
together after a tragic loss.

Marisa Tomei is absolutely making a career comeback
in her role as an older working-class woman whose affair with the
couple’s young architect-aspiring son sets the tragedy in motion.
At a recent New York screening of the movie Tomei described what
attracted her to the role. "I thought the whole script was
very evocative. You could read it and see it and hear it in your
mind. A lot of time scripts are just really flat," she said.
"This one was so rich." The critics seem to agree. The
National Board of Review awarded its best directing award to Field
for In the Bedroom. They also recognized the screenplay,
which he co-wrote with Rob Festinger, and cited the movie as being
among the year’s Ten Best Films.

At the afterparty for In the Bedroom, which
was held recently in a midtown New York hotel, the lanky 37 year-old
perfectionist director, in between frequent interruptions, which
included being pulled away for conferences with Harvey Weinstein
and requests to pose for photographs with the film’s stars, discussed
shooting on the Maine Coast, how being an actor informed some of
his directing choices and why being an performer is a whole lot
easier than being a director.

MM:This is your first feature, and
the hard work you’ve put into it really shows. I heard there was
some concern the movie was too long at two hours and 10 minutes.
Did you have to cut anything out after the film was picked up for

TF: The only things that I cut were things I wanted to do
before Sundance. A lot of people had suggested cutting it early
on-even some of my producing partners-but we pulled in audiences
from the streets of New York last fall before we went to Sundance,
and the film played at that length.

MM: You’re known mainly as an actor-and this film
is a real actor’s showcase in many ways. Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson
shared a Special Jury Prize for acting at Sundance, and it’s certainly
Marisa Tomei’s best work recently. Was the choice to give each actor
his or her ‘turn’ a deliberate one?

TF: Absolutely. I love looking at old movies
when there are real supporting roles-when I feel like I’ve gotten
to know a whole group of people, not just one guy and a girl. There’s
no role that’s insignificant; every character is imperative to the

MM: I know you said you’ve been stuck out in LA working
on the film, but how much time do you spend in Maine?

TF: I haven’t been there at all this year. As soon as I finished
the film, we moved from there to come to LA to start post and I’ve
been stuck there ever since. But we lived there for years. We spent
three months back in the summer, but that’s it.

MM: You shot the film in Maine. What was that experience

TF: It can be very frustrating because the only thing you
can count on in Maine is that the weather’s going to change every
five seconds. I’ll set up to shoot a scene and it starts pouring
rain. I remember the first day we were supposed to shoot that whole
barbecue sequence: we had everyone there, everything dressed, everybody
ready to go and all of sudden it went from a sunny blue day to this
torrential downpour. It’s a little bit like trying to catch bottled
lightning. When people talk about weather in Maine, they’re not
making small talk. There’s weather in Maine and it’s changing all
the time.

MM: How did the community react to the film shoot?

TF: Well, the people were very, very supportive. We couldn’t
have made the film without the powers that be in Rockland, Rockport,
Camden and a lot of these other towns, but predominately Rockland.
And they were excited that we were there-you know, the circus comes
to town.

I was a little nervous because I was bringing in a
bunch of strangers into my backyard, and sooner or later somebody’s
going to offend somebody somewhere. There’s a high sense of tolerance
in a small community, but you mind your p’s and q’s because you
know you’re going to see somebody for a very long time and you’re
going to bump into them on the street. People were so unbelievably
generous and gracious, but the whole time I was holding my breath
thinking, ‘Oh God, somebody’s going to offend somebody, and I’m
gonna have to see this person for the rest of my life in this town.’

MM: Can you talk a bit about how you shot the film?

TF: My cinematographer [Antonio Calvache] and I went to film
school together. In school we were pre-digital age, so we learned
things the old fashioned way. We learned how to do in-camera opticals;
we learned about map paintings and rear screen projection as opposed
to blue screen projection. We learned about doing everything in
the simplest possible way-in a chemical way, not a digital way.
If you had to shoot a night sequence and you didn’t have a big light,
you wait for a cloudy day and you shoot day for night. All of those
things people don’t generally do anymore. And we were able to do
most of those things in the film, and that was very exciting for
both of us because we talked about doing these things for a long,
long time.

MM: So you weren’t tempted to use any of
the new digital technology?

TF: No. I can always tell. It always looks like crap. Always.

MM: Does being an actor make you more generous and sensitive
to your own actors’ needs?

TF: You try to keep a very quiet set and you try to have
everything be discussed well before you get on that set. And when
you’re on the set you try to stay out of their way. You basically
become a parent and it’s like saying, ‘Okay, remember to eat your
porridge. Take the vitamins. I remember it was cold yesterday, so
put your jacket on and then go out and play.’ For me that’s always
the best setting. I’ve only had that a couple of times with a couple
different directors, but that’s what I tried to do as much as I
could. These are all smart actors. They all took this material and
elevated it to a much more interesting place than I could ever have

MM: Will you be going back to acting yourself?

TF: I don’t know. Not unless somebody calls. (laughs)

MM: I read somewhere that you said as an
actor you have to worry so much about your appearance, but as a
director you let your appearance go to hell-although you certainly
look fine. (laughing)

TF: It’s nice what a nice suit will do. I clean up well.

MM: Was it kind of liberating to lose yourself so completely
as a director?

TF: No, I like to be clean. And I like to exercise. It is
kind of nice to not think about that stuff because you’re in your
head so much. I didn’t really care… You find yourself trying
to remember if you’ve changed your underwear. It’s been a week-did
I change it? You sleep in your clothes a lot. You come home and
drop out at one o’clock in the morning and know you’re going to
have to be back for the 6:00 a.m. call. And if you’re really lucky,
like I am, you have a wife who’s kept dinner warm on the stove and
you get a bite to eat when you go back to work again. But yeah,
[there’s] something kind of great about that I guess.