Laura Linney and Topher Grace on P.S.
Laura Linney and Topher Grace get a little personal in Dylan Kidd’s (Roger Dodger) second feature film, P.S. Laura plays Louise Harrington, the admissions officer of the fine arts program at Columbia University. Louise is having a midlife crisis when she receives an application from F. Scott Feinstadt (Topher Grace). She arranges an interview and is stunned to find out that F. Scott is the spitting image of her high school sweetheart, who died shortly after they graduated. Louise begins to think that F. Scott is her former lover reincarnated. She falls for him and they engage in a passionate May to December affair.
Laura Linney has had a few sex scenes in her films, but it was a first for Topher Grace. The experience was somewhat intimidating and Topher was thankful to lose his “screen virginity” to such an experienced actress.
Topher: It was enough acting opposite Laura Linney in every scene. She's so good and it's not like we had a lot to do. In a lot of the scenes we're just facing each other talking. But then to add in physical intimacy on top of emotional intimacy was really difficult and I was really vulnerable. I wanted to be the gentleman and kind of hold her hand, and instead she was that for me. So I am so glad that I lost my screen virginity to someone as kind and giving. It was much easier once we got it. We must've done forty takes of that scene from different angles, and it played out in real time, so it was really the first two or three times we did it that were difficult.
Dylan and Laura auditioned a lot of famous young actors. They wanted to make sure that there was chemistry between the two and that their relationship was completely believable. Laura comments on how Topher stole the audition and gave her a deeper understanding of the character.
Laura: This relationship had to be authentic. You have to completely buy why they are together. The thing that I really like about this movie is while there have been many older woman-younger man relationships, they haven’t quite been set on the foundation of a woman going through a major transition in her life. She’s in the midst of a life panic and this happens during that period in time. It sits on top of an emotional foundation that is complex and deep. There’s lots of stuff that bleeds and funnels through the relationship with him. There were a lot of wonderful actors that read for his part. Topher came in, and all of a sudden, he made me understand the script more. It made such sense to me. Their attraction to each other and why they would collide and have the power it does. It told me a lot about her. My character made a lot more sense to me doing those scenes with Topher. We were really, really lucky that he came in to audition. It was very obvious, very fast.
The role of F. Scott is a departure from what we’ve seen of Topher Grace. He’s well known as Eric Foreman in That 70’s Show, but hasn’t made his mark on film just yet. Topher discussed his reason for choosing this film and the desire to do something different from what people expect.
Topher: I was lucky in that the first movie I did was Traffic. That was a 180-degree turn from the TV show. The further I've gone in my career; I realize how lucky it was that the first thing I did was a statement that I could do things that were different. I know that's the number one reason Dylan wanted to meet with me. But in terms of getting the role, it was just about going in there and reading with Laura. She was amazing. She cried off camera for me in the audition. I mean most people don't cry off camera when you're filming it. Once someone sets that level of commitment, it's hard for you to not play up at their level.
Laura had great faith in Topher’s ability to play the character. She was very generous in her praise for him.
Laura: He’s fantastic. There’s a real actor there. What he does on That 70’s Show is fantastic, but just a sliver of what he’s capable of doing. He was great to work with. He has an actor’s mind. Not everyone has that nor do you have to have an actors mind. But with a project like this, it’s complicated; to be able to talk to the person you’re working with about what’s the best thing to do. I loved him. He was totally delicious.
Both actors took different approaches in preparing for the film. P.S. is based on a book by Helen Schulman. Topher decided not to read the book. He didn’t want to be influenced by it.
Topher: Once I read the script, I realized that F. Scott is really youth personified. I didn't want him to be bound by anything in my approach to the character. So I was really debating whether or not I should read the novel because I was really dying to be in something that was based on a book, but I didn't want to be locked down by any answers. Since we wrapped, I read the book and I love it, but in the beginning it was a challenge as to whether I should let go and try things that weren't even in the script, and be that one ray of light in her life.
Laura read the book, but took most of her inspiration from her discussions with director Dylan Kidd. She believes in a strong repoire between actors and directors. Communication is the key to telling a good story.
Laura: There are certain things that actors inherently know about the development of character. Actors can have insight into psychological journeys that some directors might not. This is so complicated. Her journey is so complicated. There were things that were clear to me that Dylan didn’t necessarily see at first and vice versa. You get to points where you negotiate what we are telling here. What are we actually saying about this. A lot of it is about trust, look, you don’t really have to do too much here. It will be there. I promise it will be there. There are things about storytelling and things that I know to be true, what you need, and what you don’t need. A lot of times people do too much or too little. Sometimes actors can help as far as know what will translate. Topher continues to grow in the film industry by learning from the best. He talked about his acting future and takes a swipe at young actors that are overachievers.
Topher: I just finished a movie with Dennis Quaid, Synergy, where it was three months of me and him hanging out. Being able to do scenes with Julia Roberts and Michael Douglas, I've started to realize that the best way to approach learning from them is observation. They're giving you all the answers. They're showing you how it's done. I have no yen to do anything but act. I don't think I'd be good at it. I really hate these kids who, after their first or second film, want to write and direct and then want to cut a rap album. I'm very new at this and I'm happy to talk about how green I am. I just want to be a sponge and learn from all the best people, because I truly hope this is the beginning of my career.
Laura’s next role could earn her an Oscar nomination. Kinsey, the biopic of the famed sex researcher, was the film she shot before P.S. She co-stars opposite Liam Neeson as his wife, Clara Kinsey. She spoke about the project, how much she enjoyed it, and the hectic schedule of shooting both films back to back.
Laura: It took Kinsey a very long time to get together. We had waited years, literally years, for Kinsey to finally get its financing together. It was just the timing of it. I had been connected to both films and they cropped up at the exact same time. A lot of times you don’t have the power over scheduling, so when they actually get it together, you got to just do it. I had 48 hours off, but I loved every single minute of it. We all did, the crew, the cast; it was a sublimely happy experience. I loved that script. One of the things that was fun, as far as the character that I was playing, it was the first time that I worked from the outside in. I’ve ever done that before. We were very different body types. She’s a real person. You’re approaching something with as much respect as you can, knowing that you can never fulfill it. There was very little on her. I got an audio tape so I could listen to her talk. I got a sense of her qualities, how she would make people feel, the placement of her voice, her spirit. She was very refreshing and robust. I gained a lot of weight for the movie. There were fat suits, wigs, contact lenses, prosthetics, all sorts of stuff. I’d never done that before, so it was interesting.
Laura also talked about the joys of working with a best friend. She and Liam Neeson are very close. They once spent six months together on Broadway in The Crucible.
Laura: Working with friends is great. That’s one of the great things about getting older. More than likely you’re going to stumble across the people you’ve worked with in the past. You have a history together and you know how each other works. Particularly with Kinsey, Liam and I, and I’ve never had the experience of working with someone on stage for six months, and then done a movie with them. It’s fantastic, if you like them. We’re very, very good friends. It’s just about trust. You start at a whole other level. You can reach a little further; you can go a little deeper, try things. You’re not self-conscious around each other. If you’re bad in a scene, they’ll still think you’re good. They’re going to help you work things out.
Dont't forget to also check out: P.S.