Davis Guggenheim talks about working with his wife Elizabeth Shue on the set of his new sports drama
Davis Guggenheim is best known for directing An Inconvenient Truth. You may not recognize the name because it was Al Gore who got all the attention.
Now, Davis is turning his own attentions to his wife, Elizabeth Shue. In Gracie, Guggenheim tells the story of a teenage girl who must fight for her right to play on the boys' high school soccer team. At the same time, she is dealing with the lose of her brother, a star soccer player in his own right and the only protector she has. Based on the Shue family's own tragic lose of a sibling, the film is a fictionalized take on how Elizabeth Shue managed to work her way into the male dominated sport.
We recently met up with Davis to talk about his latest project:
I didn't realize until I was reading the press notes that you worked on Deadwood. Did you direct the entire series?
Davis Guggenheim: Just the first season. I directed five of the episodes and I produced the entire series.
You won't have anything to do with the two movies they are planning?
Davis Guggenheim: I'm done with that show.
I was just talking to Dermot, and we thought maybe you could through a Dirty Steve cameo in there.
Davis Guggenheim: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. (Laughs), That would be great.
Did you have anything to do with the casting of the kids in this film?
Davis Guggenheim: Yeah.
None of the cast I have spoken too seems to know about Trevor Heins role on Wonder Showzen. Have you seen the show?
Davis Guggenheim: I've heard about it. The crew on the set were talking about Wonder Showzen. And they were saying, "Oh, my God." And I knew he was on the Dennis Leary show. I didn't know anything about it. But he was great. He came in, and he was a lot of fun.
Gracie seems to be appealing to the boys as well as the girls, even though it seems to be geared towards the female crowd. Did you do anything to make this more appealing to the young male demographic?
Davis Guggenheim: No, but I wasn't trying to make a film that appealed to girls, either. I just thought this was an incredible character, and I had to tell a story about her. Some people might have said, "Oh, I'm going to put this scene in to attract a bigger audience." But I think, in retrospect, boys come out of it thinking she is amazing and hot. They think she is sexy. So, that's cool. But I try not to do that. With religious discipline, I try not to play something to an audience. I like to do what I like.
Did you have anything to do with the fact that Dermot and Elizabeth didn't have any love scenes in this film?
Davis Guggenheim: I thought his gestures towards my wife during the filming of this movie were inappropriate. And I kept him as far away from my wife as possible...I'm joking. No. We actually had this affectionate moment between the two of them towards the end of the film. I shot it, and it was very nice. But I couldn't find a place for it. The movie really wasn't about that. It's about this girl, and a fifteen-year-old girl doesn't really notice those things. They would have both loved to have a more saucy scene.
Besides the obvious fact that it would give you a chance to work with your wife and her family, what drew you to this film?
Davis Guggenheim: I've probably been extremely stupid in my film choices. Because I've done Deadwood, an in your face western, then a documentary about global warming, and now this. So, I don't know? I just pursue stories that I like and feel passionate about. This just happened to be my wife's story. I felt passionate about that.
How would you compare it to Bend It Like Beckham?
Davis Guggenheim: Well, it is like that movie in that it has a girl and it revolves around soccer. But it is so different. Bend It Like Beckham is a cultural comedy, and this is a drama. I came to it because when I met my wife eighteen years ago, her brother had just died. I met Andrew, and her other brother, and their family was just devastated from his death. They all talked about him. He was just this saintly, beautiful person who was just a star. And her protector. And she was the only girl, so you felt like no one was there to protect her. When Andrew first started telling me the story, I thought it was very interesting. A girl whose brother dies, and she fights to remember him. And the family comes together.
Was she a little older in real life when her brother actually died?
Davis Guggenheim: She was a little older. It happened right after college. She was twenty-three. A lot of the details of the story are different. That was on purpose. We weren't making a documentary. If you try to get the facts right, you miss the point. We wanted to capture the spirit of this girl. But she was the only girl in a family of boys, she did lose her older brother who was a star soccer player. They were a family that was boy and soccer obsessed. She was this extraordinary kid, but she didn't matter because she was a girl.
Are Elizabeth Shue and Dermot Mulroney's characters close to the actually mother and father figures?
Davis Guggenheim: Her character is extremely close. Dermot, the father figure, changed. There were issues of her being invisible in that family, but to create that central conflict of a father who completely ignores his daughter...That's a little different than her actual father. And Dermot brought his own characterization to the part. We told Carly and Dermot that they had to find their own characters. If they were trying to be the real people, it wouldn't be a good movie.
Was Dermot really having a problem with his knees during the shoot? Because there's that one scene where he drops down and makes an exclamation about his knees giving out. His line delivery seemed so real.
Davis Guggenheim: Are you going to interview him?
Davis Guggenheim: Good, ask him that. That came from his own injury. That wasn't in the script. It felt like a good little revel of his past. Because he was a soccer player. He and I grew up in the same town. And everyone in town played soccer. He loved soccer, and he brought his own passion for the game into the film. That speech, before Johnny's game, he says, "In baseball, when it rains, they roll the tarp out. In soccer, they just keep going!" Dermot wrote that. That was the speech that he brought. He brought his own love of the game to the movie.
Did you ever go through the script with the entire family, and make sure that everyone was on the same page?
Davis Guggenheim: The inner circle was Andrew, Elizabeth, and me. There were many long and heated discussions about it. We didn't all see it the same way. All of us knew that the other one wanted to get it right for all the same reasons, but we knew that we didn't all see it the same way. But it was the doing of that. The talking made it come out to be something different. Something we all loved. But it was really hard. They really wanted to defend their family. Make sure they got everything right.
What were they worried about protecting?
Davis Guggenheim: So, this is going to sound high faluten, or bullshit, but I believe it to be true. The spirit of things was more important to them then the facts. The spirit of this family, and the quality of their love for this boy and each other was more important. There were arguements about what should be real, and what should not be real. But, there was this great moment where Carly came to the set, and Elizabeth said, "Carly, you have to stop being me. That is not going to make a great movie. Be yourself. Or find Gracie in yourself." The same with Dermot. And they had to tell that to me as a storyteller. I had to make the movie I wanted to make for it to be good. If we were just religiously slaves to their experiences, it would not make a good movie. Because that gets confusing, and its hard to put into the framework of the movie.
When you are on the set, is it easy to separate Elizabeth the wife and Elizabeth the actress? Is it easy to separate the two of them?
Davis Guggenheim: If I told you I did, I would be lying. When I told my friends that we were going to be working together, friends that know us both really well, they were like, "Oh, man, don't do it. You guys are barely keeping your marriage together." We're both fiery, and we fight for what we want. People were scared for us. They thought it might be too much. We would either fall apart, or the movie would be terrible. I wouldn't do it again. But we both wanted the same thing. It was worth it. Sometimes, in life, you just don't know why you do the things you do. You think you know why. You've got all these reasons why. But when I saw it on the big screen, I realized I made it because I love my wife. I'm inspired by her as a person. And my passion for the movie was born out of my love for her. If it meant fighting, kicking, and scraping, then that was fine.
What was harder, working on this or working on An Inconvenient Truth?
Davis Guggenheim: They were both really tough. The good ones are harder. I've done a lot of television, where you do another episode, and you have to say, "Okay. Here is another detective interviewing another criminal. How am I going to make that more interesting?" But you have a safety in the repetition of everything. This is such a unique story, and An Inconvenient Truth was too. They were both really hard.
What is your opinion about these teams that are coming up now in high school, and they are given the same trophy for losing as they are given for winning? And what about the kids that are given fifteen dollars for making a goal?
Davis Guggenheim: I shouldn't tell you this, but my wife tells my son that if he scores a goal, he gets three dollars. And if he gets an assist, he gets two. I think it's terrible. I think it's awful. But, she loves soccer so much, and she is such a competitor, I can't stop her. I think it is bad institutionally. I think it's really bad. Kids have to have their own goals. The great thing about sports is that it's the great equalizer. It doesn't matter if you are rich. It doesn't matter if you are good looking. It doesn't matter if you are born in the wrong neighborhood. If you are good and you fight hard, you will get rewards for it. To artificially add incentives is to corrupt that equal playing field. That's what the movie is about. Gracie has her family who don't believe in her, the school doesn't believe in her, her boyfriend doesn't believe in her. And she has to fight all those forces to convince them, so she can pursue her dream.
Can you talk about the casting of Carly Schroeder? Where you looking for someone who could play soccer really well? And was Elizabeth always supposed to be in the film
Davis Guggenheim: I was very nervous about asking my wife to be in the movie. We were having breakfast, and I felt that if she turned me down, I'd have to call her agent. Carly was the first girl to walk in the door. We had two thousand soccer players audition. We realized that the best girl we saw was the first girl that walked in. Andrew had a huge debate. He wanted to cast a soccer player that he could teach how to act. And I wanted to cast an actor that we could teach to play soccer. And it turned out that neither one of us were right. We were looking for a girl that had these eyes. And you see it in the movie when she is knocked down. Her eyes were fierce. It didn't matter if she was a good actor or a good soccer player. What mattered was her fight. If you have that, you have everything. I came away from this movie learning that acting is all about the spirit of the person. You can't hide the spirit of an actor, and you can't hide the spirit if it's there. If you get the right spirit, you can make anything work.
You've done these smaller films. Do you ever see yourself crossing over and doing something huge?
Davis Guggenheim: I would love to. To me, I've learned now that it can be anything. I never thought I'd do a film about a slide show. So, if I can do that, I can make anything work if I'm passionate enough about it. If I feel strongly about it. Nothing is possible if I don't feel right about it.
I didn't know that you directed An Inconvenient Truth until I read the press notes for it. Is it hard sometimes when someone else, Al Gore in this case, gets all the credit for your movie?
Davis Guggenheim: That's the way it should be. When the director gets too much attention, they lose their ability to be on the edges. The director's job is to be on the outside, looking in. The moment they become center stage, they distract from the story. I love that Al Gore got all the attention. With this, if a cheering audience ran past me to get to Carly, that would be my satisfaction. I like being anonymous.
Gracie opens on June 1st, 2007.