Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear, Abigail Breslin, and Alan Arkin talk about the best film of the year
They set on a mission to go from New Mexico to California - what happened next is unspeakable. It was the adventure one family will never forget and the plot for some horror movies, but it's about a comedy - Little Miss Sunshine, starring Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Alan Arkin, Paul Dano, and Abigail Breslin.
Abigail (Olive) wins a regional beauty pageant in New Mexico; the finals are in California, and her family must drive out there to participate - in their old 1970's style Volkswagen van. Sometime along the way, the van breaks down; to kick start it, the whole family has to push it down the street and then jump into the side door.
Everyone in the cast had something to say about that van; eight-year-old Abigail had the easiest job of all - she was normally the first person in the van. Toni had the whole rhythm down pat. "I guess it's like the repeated gag; it obviously could have been dangerous, but it was all very well rehearsed and we had a safety person there. I really like watching how everyone in their different characters approaches it. Greg isn't running, he's driving - cop out. Steve ran and little Abby and Dwayne trying to maintain his cool quality; when you see them do that, you see them in almost like a moment of freedom. All they've been wanting to do is connect and at the end they're all connecting, but they're also feeling really comfortable and really free within themselves. When you see them jumping in the van for the last time it's like they're isolated and you can see them as who they are or something. It was quite beautiful."
But talk about a challenge; Greg said he had the toughest job of all. "I did all the driving in the movie; I should get a frickin' award for that because first of all, everybody's life was in my hands, including a nine-year-old beautiful girl's. The guy would just say, 'Okay, we think she can go about 7 miles an hour.' And I'd go, 'What? What?' 'Action!' And I'd be looking at her, and then she'd go, 'I can't reach it! I can't reach it!' I wouldn't know - well, is that the line from the frickin' movie or is she telling me she can't reach it? So it was absolute un-orchestrated chaos every single time, not to mention when we shot out on these freeways. We didn't have the money to close the freeway down, so there's a great chance if you live in Southern California you'll be in our movie. I was going like 50 miles an hour in this '71 VW van that doesn't have side air bags. Basically you'd wait for this huge camera truck to come whizzing in front of us with the camera. 'Okay, go!' I mean, it was insanity; it's the most dangerous movie I've ever made. Don't listen to Paramount and their Mission: Impossible franchise - it's a joke."
But Greg really goes through an emotional roller coaster in Little Miss Sunshine; he's trying to secure a book deal for his '9 Steps' program and support - or discourage - his daughter (Abigail) from competing in the pageant. "There was a lot of cool stuff about Richard I felt, like he was a failing motivational speaker. It's a kind of interesting dichotomy, and his methodology of telling people to never give up is probably working against him given the fact that he's probably at the point where he should entertaining other ideas for a book."
Paul Dano plays a kid who has taken a vow of silence; with the combination of him and Abigail, Toni mentioned getting to work with the two was an amazing experience. "He's a very quiet guy anyway and once he started talking you couldn't shut him up. They're both incredibly talented and lovely people and I think the entire cast all felt so lucky to be working on something like this. We all got along really well and had great respect for each other and appreciated each other's work. Abby, I forgot she was a kid actually because we were all in it together. I mean obviously I do know she's a kid because she's half my size, but she's incredibly professional and so good at what she does. I just think when it comes to acting it's not something you can learn. To look at someone like her who just does it you kind of realize it's just an innate thing. You either kind of have it or you don't. Paul is such a smart; I was actually concerned because he's actually 21 and I'm 33 and thought how could he possibly play my f*cking child? But, luckily he looked really young on screen and we hung out quite a bit actually. We both really love music and went to a couple of concerts together and just got along really well. He's just a sweet, smart young man and it was really special. I think the story is special, but the group like in the wrong hands it could have become something else. I think Jon (Dayton) and Val (Faris) collated a group of people who got it in the same way that they did.
Abigail said she was honored to work with all of the older actors in Little Miss Sunshine. "Whenever I'd go on and Alan (Arkin) was cursing I was listening to music really. So I didn't hear any of that, but whenever I go on sets they never say any bad things, and when they do they say, 'Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry.' I'm like, 'Oh, it's okay.' I don't know how it would really be being treated like a grown up because I'm not a grown up and so I don't know that."
And speaking of Alan Arkin, Abby and her had a very special relationship. "She's just a consummate pro; it's like working with a first-rate, seasoned actress. There would be periods where we would be locked in the van for 3, 4 hours at a time, and she was just part of the group; her mother wasn't there, she was just part of the group. When it came time to do that scene where she breaks down in the hotel room, she wouldn't talk to me that morning; she just said 'Hi.' She was focused on what she had to do, and she was getting prepared for that scene. The first take was brilliant; the director said - and I hadn't talked to her about how to do it - she (Val) said, 'Can you take it down a little bit? There's a little too much crying.' She says, 'Yeah.' She did it, she took it down about 10%; she's a pro."
Throughout Little Miss Sunshine, Alan and Abigail talk about a big dance for her performance. It took her two weeks to rehearse for Abigail before the scene; then the big moment came. "That was fun, that was a lot of fun; but when I first did it, I was kind of nervous because there were a lot of people up there. So that was a little bit nerve racking, but once I did it like once or twice I was fine."
Greg got into the act as well; "That involves, of course, dancing; I read the script and I saw that my character was dancing. I literally went to Jon and Val and asked them, 'What if I'm just - okay, Richard, he's not dancing; they're all dancing and it's great and it's all joyful, and he's not dancing. He's just -' They were like, 'No, you'll be dancing.' It was one of the unfortunate aspects of the job, but you know. Yeah, thank G-d; if he didn't do that, I mean if he didn't basically go and fall down flat on his face, I think you'd never forgive him. But he's ultimately doing that for his daughter, so you finally get to say, 'Oh, of course, he's doing it for her.' I think it might be lost to some people up to that point; it's his daughter, he'd do anything for her. So it's really a vitally important thing, and it was actually very, very fun. Was it fun? I'm not sure, it was fine. Because those people in the audience didn't even know - those pageant people we'd invited. They were real pageant people; at that point they were just going like, 'What the hell is going on?' Nobody knew what was happening, it was very strange."
Overall, Little Miss Sunshine is about a family with a lot of problems that comes together. However, Toni doesn't want to put the 'dysfunctional' tag on them. "I think life is complicated and people just want to categorize everything and put labels on everything. I think life is too abstruse for that and I think this film somehow actually suggests that in a kind of real way. They go through many different moments and they are constantly changing. The journey that they go on is physically and metaphorically full of so many leaps and changes and abrupt turns and epiphany. I think it's really healthy to understand that it's okay to be so chaotic."
Little Miss Sunshine is truly one of the best films you'll see all year! It's out in limited theaters now, and opens nationwide in the coming weeks; it's rated R.