Joan Allen revels about her two latest projects, The Upside of Anger and Off the Map
Joan Allen has been a stalwart of great acting in Hollywood for twenty years. She may not be instantly recognizable, but has honed her talents in such memorable films as Manhunter, Face Off, Pleasantville, and The Contender; which earned her an Oscar nomination. Joan has two very different films coming out on March 11th. She stars alongside Sam Elliot and Valentina de Angelis in Campbell Scotts "Off the Map", a quirky low-budget film about a family living in the New Mexico desert. "The Upside of Anger" is a much bigger studio film about an angry woman, her four daughters, and her ardent suitor. The film is the latest work from Mike Binder, known for his HBO comedy series "The Mind of the Married Man", and a welcome return to form for Kevin Costner. Joan is excellent in both films. Hopefully one will not detract from the other. It's a strange marketing decision to release both films on the same day, but studio heads are much smarter than everybody else.
You play a very different type of character in Off the Map. Arlene is very earthy, almost a hippie. What attracted you to this role?
Joan Allen: Initially it took a while to get this movie made. I turned Campbell [Scott, the director] down because for me when I was reading it, I wanted to be the one who was messed up. It took a couple more years and the film came back to me. Then I started to see it more as she was very earthy and I thought that would be a lot of fun to play. This woman knows how to fix a car for god's sake. And that element started to supersede the other part of it.
Was it challenging to play her?
Joan Allen: Well you just have to do what's on the page. And it presented a lot of fun opportunities to go to the garbage dump and go into the garden and carry a big battery over and slam it down. I loved the clothes. I thought the clothes were phenomenal. The costume designer got them from thrift stores. She was fabulous. It felt authentic. The landscape was beautiful and just hanging out there.
What about your nude scene? You've said before that you wouldn't do nudity.
Joan Allen: I told Campbell that I didn't think I'd be able to do that. And he was set up with the body double. I told him to be prepared that I probably wouldn't do it, but I ended up doing it. It was scheduled later into the shoot and after I had been in New Mexico for about a month I thought, "Oh, I understand naked gardening now". More than I did in my penthouse in New York. In New York, I didn't understand naked gardening with rattlesnakes and tarantulas. It didn't seem smart to me. It was easier because it was not a sexual scene. I wouldn't be able to do a nude sex scene. Campbell said it would be very discreet. But you have to do it because the IRS agent is blown out of the water seeing this woman just standing there. It was difficult but I'm glad that ultimately I did do it.
No naked gardening in the penthouse?
Joan Allen: (Laughs) I don't do it here. I'm from the Midwest. My mom would find out somehow. I'm from Northern Illinois, a small town called Rochelle.
Off the Map and The Upside of Anger are being released on the same day. What is it like to have two films come out at the same time?
Joan Allen: I just hope to get the right name of the movie. (Laughs) I can watch myself and it almost seems that I'm watching somebody else, so I can be more sort of objective about it.
Your character in The Upside of Anger, Terry, is very different from Arlene. She's an angry woman with a lot of emotional issues. Which character was easier for you to play?
Joan Allen: The Upside of Anger was scarier for me to do because of the comic element. And the drinking was such a huge part of it. I trusted Mike Binder [the director and costar] so much. He wrote the part for me and I just had a great sense of him and his sensibility. I knew he wasn't going to let me down. He'd tell me when it was funny and when it's not and when it doesn't work. Just the best thing to do is be brave. Be the bravest I can be. Dare to be horrendous. As an actor it was a lot of fun, a little exhausting but very fulfilling.
How do Campbell Scott and Mike Binder compare as directors?
Joan Allen: That's a hard question. They both were kind of quiet. They would just come in and say a few words about something not intrusive. In some ways I found them a lot similar. They both act as well. Mike has done a lot of acting too.
What did Campbell Scott and Mike Binder tell you that make them different from a director who hasn't acted before?
Joan Allen: I think one thing they understand is not to tell you too much. The best thing to me that a director can do is making an actor feel safe and loved. I would never work with a director that would make me feel intimidated scared. I would never be able to do my work. Because you're out there doing all this crazy stuff and you have to feel loved by the director. Maybe that is a bit strong of a statement, but I do need to feel nurtured. I can try anything and it's really important to me. They have a better idea when to come in and when to not whisper something to you; when to squeeze your arm. All those things enable you to be vulnerable. Because that's what our job is, go out and be vulnerable.
Many older actresses complain about the lack of roles. Why is it that you still get these great parts?
Joan Allen: I have no idea why it works that way. It's just what comes out at a certain time. For instance, if Oliver stone hadn't done Nixon at that time. That was the right role for me at the right time. It just took me to a level of notice within the industry. And I look back and I've done five films within the last two years. I did Off the Map, The Notebook, Yes, Upside of Anger, and then the Bourne Supremacy. I haven't worked for several months now.
Do you think there is something you project or retain a certain energy?
Joan Allen: I just try and do the best with every role I get to do. Hopefully the experience in itself is a good experience and people will want to work with me.
Do you ever give your younger costars any acting pointers? You have four daughters in The Upside of Anger and one in Off the Map?
Joan Allen: No, there is equal footing. Valentina de Angelis [Joan's Off the Map costar] included. She was so prepared, so smart. Her mother wasn't even on the set. Her mother is fabulous. She has a wonderful family. She was so self-possessed she would say, "Mom can you stay back in the trailer?" She was there and she knew her lines. She had more lines than any of us in the whole film. She had longer hours. There's an unselfish consciousness of younger people too. I think that the older you get you have to watch that. I think that when you work with the older actors, I look for them to teach me something on how to stay open.
Do you ever want to go back to the theatre?
Joan Allen: No. No. I did a lot of theatre in my younger life in my 20's and I loved it so much. But I prefer working in film these days. Part of it is that its really hard work. Every day you got to go, every day. I remember shooting a really emotional scene in the crucible and I came home and I said, "Thank god. I'm not doing this in a play because you'd have to do it every night". It's very demanding.
Are you signed up for another Bourne film?
Joan Allen: If they decide to do and they write me in, I am signed already yes.
Do you enjoy playing that character? She was a very different role for you as well.
Joan Allen: I enjoyed the film. I enjoyed the genre and I loved the director. I loved the other people working on it, like Matt Damon. It was one of the hardest roles I've ever done. The language was so unemotional it was almost impossible for me to memorize. They kept changing the script as well. It would be lunch and then it would be like here are four more pages. We're going to shoot this after lunch. That kind of dialogue is like memorizing the phone book. When it's not overtly emotional it's hard. The lines would just go out of my head! It was like, "Uplink the satellite on precinct three". It was a good challenge.