Anthony Minghella, Juliette Binoche, Robin Wright Penn, and Vera Farmiga discuss the film
Director Anthony Minghella takes a break from the epic period films with Breaking and Entering. Set in London's culturally changing landscape, the film stars Jude Law and Juliette Binoche as married strangers who embark on a disastrous affair for different reasons. It's a serious drama with excellent character work by the actresses involved. The female cast members: Juliette Binoche, Vera Farmiga, and Robin Wright Penn, joined Anthony Minghella at a recent press conference here in New York City. They don't share any scenes in the film, so it was the first time that the actresses had met each other. It certainly was an interesting display of different personalities.
How did you research your characters? You're all playing ethnically diverse women from backgrounds dissimilar to your own.
Juliette Binoche: My first instinct was to go to Sarajevo and meet with women, to understand what they were doing during the war, before the war and after the war. I have to say that meeting the mothers was very traumatic. When they arrived to the city, whether it was Paris or London, it's still a struggle. So it's like they're kind of sacrificing their lives for their children. As an actor it's always a transformational journey because first you have to come without knowing and you have to empty yourself so you can see. I had been through the South African experience, trying to understand what they went through. It was almost so similar, and yet different. I had to understand the differences. I started from there, there was the accent issue, but that became more of a tool thing, and it was not a big issue, it just happened because I was in contact with a Bosnian woman all the time in London. She made my life much easier. That was how I made my journey, and it was difficult, but it was worth it.
Robin Wright Penn: I asked Anthony [Minghella, the director] in the beginning, "Surely you know some Scandinavian women", or "Where'd you get this character?" He said, "You know what, just go to Stockholm." So I said, "Okay," and I went for 48 hours. This is basically what I got. I would interview a couple of people, and they would say "Well, most of us are suicidal," so basically that was all I needed. They don't have a lot of light throughout the year. And what they do is become alcoholic. Nobody talks about it. I didn't want to investigate further. I felt like that was a culture in and of it self.
Vera Farmiga: I come from a long line of Slavic immigrants who have been looking to build a better life for themselves. This one was Romanian, I'm Ukrainian, but I think those countries have had similar politics and have been shackled. For me the prostitution, she could have just as easily been a cashier. In my mind she was more of a philosopher. So I didn't feel the need to turn a few tricks to understand that. But the reason I was so drawn to the character, and often times you're drawn to the qualities in certain characters that you admire...it was the opposite of myself. I think she's got a bluntness and a frankness that I really admired.
One thing that the film does is show people from different social backgrounds crossing into different worlds. What do you think draws Jude Law's character into the world of Juliette's character?
Juliette Binoche: I think he's caught by the wallet thing. He came to catch the burglar, and all of a sudden it's this woman. The mother's the burglar and it's the most astonishing event. I think that's capturing the honesty of strugglers. It's like he's discovering, my god, these people have their lives. It's not like a seamstress with no life. They have their world, and they come from a very specific place. So we're discovering their world as he's discovering it.
Anthony Minghella: One of the things we tried to do was create a world in which these three people, Robin and Jude and their daughter, were living where all the blood had sort of drained out of everything. It was designed to death, there wasn't any sort of color anywhere. Everything has lost its blood. I didn't find it odd that he was attracted to Juliette. I think it's a moment where that window smashes at the beginning of the movie, and everyone's looking at each other as opposed to not looking at each other. Part of what happens with Jude's character is he thinks he's demonized this burglar, and then he finds out that this burglar is the most innocent person in the entire story. When you sit down and realize that everybody's human, and I'm not excusing anything, but part of what fiction does is it forces you for a minute to look at something from more than one perspective.
Strong female characters are lacking generally in film, and here you have three. How did you cast these roles?
Anthony Minghella: When I started working on this film, I made an absolute declaration of intent that I would cast a Swedish woman to play the Swedish role, a Bosnian woman to play the Bosnian role, and a Romanian woman to play the Romanian prostitute. I went to Romania, I went to Scandinavia, I went to Bosnia, I met loads of Balkan actresses, I loved many of them, and I kept thinking, they need that thing that Juliette has, to be very direct. And at a certain point it became clear that it was crazy not to go to the source of that in some way. It's a reminder to me to that actors pretend. They don't need to show their passport at the stage door or the studio door. The authenticity is an emotional authenticity and not an issue of nationality. I remember rewriting the script, having met Robin, because we went through the whole part, and I just thought that I could do this better. She engaged me and I wanted to go back, "Have I got this completely correct?" You're not going to do the movie again with a different group. You're going to do it with the people who are going to be "Amira", going to be "Oana", going to be "Liv". And they're going to take care of it at that point. You've had your say and then it's time to listen.
Do you feel that you've sort of returned to the beginning of your career by deviating from the epic adaptations that you've been known for over the last decade?
Anthony Minghella: I loved that in making this movie there weren't many more people than are in this room right now on a daily basis. When I was making Cold Mountain, there was one day when there were more than 2,000 people on the set. It's very difficult to keep your focus. I'd never intended to do any adaptations, it just sort of happened to me. It was very good for me personally to be surrounded by people who were very committed to something contemporary, and something modest in every sense. People did the movie for very little money. They showed up because they wanted to be in the movie. It was a very different experience and one that I liked a lot.
There's a strong theme of infidelity in this movie. How did this idea of infidelity figure into your individual characters?
Robin Wright Penn: I don't think the word actually lives up to its definition, or the cliché of what this definition is. Are you an infidel? It's running to a different source, and I think we're all playing a part in infidelity in some way, it's not just sexual. You're running away from yourself, unfaithful to you, I think that theme plays in this movie in many different colors. It's not just the cliché of him fucking another woman. It's so much more layered than that. That's why she can understand who this woman is apart from the event that happened.
Juliette Binoche: I think that when she meets the prostitute in the car, he's not looking for sexual things; it's something else. He's searching, and he doesn't know for what exactly. From an outsider point of view you can see it's bad, but when you're on the inside you have a different perspective. We're taken by love, and we don't know why, but it feels like if we don't live love, we're not being human. So it's very complex. That's what I love about this film, it shows the complexity of our souls, our going back and forth, our search, and sometimes the way we destroy things because it's unbearable.
Vera, your star has risen considerably with the success of The Departed. How are you choosing roles in the wake of that film's success?
Vera Farmiga: I pinch myself that I'm sitting at this table with this king and these two queens, for me it's a dream. These are two actresses that I've always looked up to and been inspired by. I've aspired to have a career like theirs. And I've always wanted to work with this man. I'd like to think that you draw certain roles, like mine did. I just want to tell stories about what it means to be human. It's that simple. When you work with risk takers and people who are passionate, that's my only criteria.
Did the child who played Juliette's son know how to do all of free running stunts? He seemed like a natural?
Anthony Minghella: I came across a website of someone who had to do 300 back flips before they could go to bed. I thought it would be interesting if the boy is also a gymnast, and that's how he can get in and out of the buildings. Perhaps he likes being on top of buildings rather than on the ground because it's free air. And someone said, "Oh, like free runners?" They showed me a documentary about the sport in France that came to England. So we tried to find some young boys who could do it. I think that they had maybe 6,000 boys that they gradually whittled down. I saw about a hundred who could move, who could be Juliette's son, who had a sort of story. It was so complicated, and what happened was this boy sent us this video of him doing the moves, and he ended up being the actor. So he's doing all that stuff.