Joan Allen, Keri Russell, Erika Christensen and Evan Rachel Wood talk about The Upside of Anger
When movies cast strangers as family, the actors have to sell the family dynamic quickly. In The Upside of Anger, Joan Allen plays mother to Keri Russell, Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood and Alicia Witt. The daughters would spend time together after shooting, but Russell had to brush up on her ballet skills as her character is a dancer.
"They would all go for dinner afterwards, and I would have my leotards and tights and was chucked off to ballet school," Russell said. Still, she bonded with her costars on a personal level. "I adore Evan Rachel Wood. I love her. When she turns 18 I'm going to marry her. She reminds me so much of my little sister I think physically. My little sister has very pale skin and very blonde blue eyes and kind of has Evan's face but with a longer nose. There's something about her I really adore, so that always helps."
Christensen added, "When you have to play sisters there's that tacit agreement. Okay, we're going to get into this, and from day one we kind of gather around Evan and were like, ‘So tell us about your boyfriend.' And so we hung out, went out to dinner, and actually had two weeks of rehearsal, which was more like sit around and chat. And then three hours into some digression Mike [Binder, the director] would go, ‘Okay, maybe we should get back to reading the script. And then actually also Joan, Alicia and I, our birthdays are three sequential days, so we had a girly get together, only girls allowed. We just hung out in Joan's flat."
Wood said, "I've known Erika Christensen since I was like 9 years old so that made it a little better. We used to go to acting class together so it was really cool that we got to work on something together. It really wasn't that hard at all. They're all really, really, cool down to earth people. I guess I was a little awkward at first because I'm really shy. I'm definitely shy around girls. I was raised with a bunch of boys so I never know how it's going to be. But they were really great so it wasn't hard at all."
Allen respected all of her "daughters." "It was fun," Allen said. "All the actresses playing my daughters are just phenomenal. I mean, great people, wonderfully professional. They had so much experience. They've taken acting classes and singing and this and that. Talented, talented girls and we had a really great time."
The daughters help each other through crisis when mom sinks into her rage. When her husband suddenly leaves the family, Terry Anne Wolfmeyer (Allen) begins drinking and lashing out against the world. Though she is brutal, her comments often come across as high comedy.
"Society has a very hard time dealing with women's anger period," Allen said. "And I think it gets pushed to the side. I think they don't want to look at it. I think if a woman is angry she's labeled immediately. And there's a different standard for men and anger and women and anger. So not that this is such a huge thematic message film, because I think a lot of it is really cool entertainment, I think there is something out there. She's been incredibly hurt and that's where a lot of anger I think comes from in general is somebody gets their feelings really, really hurt and enzymes or whatever start charging in and then you protect yourself. And one way of protecting yourself is to get really pissed off."
Allen was interested in playing a women who blamed the outside world for all of her problems because it was so unlike herself. "I feel sometimes Joan suffers from too much introspection, which kind of freezes me. Like is this the right thing, what should I do? I'm always breaking down how I'm reacting to things. But Terry Anne does not do that. She just like puts it out there and I'm mad, you're going to know it. It's like that one scene when Emily's really sick and she's on the bed and Emily says, ‘I just didn't think you really cared.' And she said, ‘Well, like everybody else in life, you need to pay closer attention.'"
As mean as Terry Anne got, Allen's costars admired her ability to turn it off between takes. "She's just the sweetest woman on the planet," said Wood. "All the best actresses just snap in and out of it and she definitely did. She'd be really quiet and really sweet and she'd have to come out and be like, ‘No! No! So it was fun to watch actually. And she is very shy and she honestly doesn't have any idea how brilliant she is. I'm like, ‘You know you're in the top three best actresses of all time'. And she'll be like, ‘What? No.' She doesn't get it. She doesn't know how brilliant she is. She's very sweet."
Russell said, "First of all, she's incredible. I can't say enough wonderful things about her just as a person, a human being, as an actress. I think I'm speaking for everyone when I say she's our hero. She's so rare and graceful, and everything she does is her whole being. I loved that all my scenes got to be the really antagonistic stuff with her, because I got to do the good stuff with her. And I think we kind of got each other in a way, which always helps. No matter how well something is written, you either have this thing with each other or you don't. Luckily, I think we did. I think it was pretty easy to work with her. She's so good, and when you work with somebody that good, they kind of instantly make you better."
Christensen said, "I did learn from watching her, because she so firmly had a structure of this character, that within that structure she could go nuts, and she could try all different kinds of things from one take to the next, and it all made sense. And I imagine this was really tough to edit, because there were so many great choices. I liked that, I think that changed the way I work a little bit, it freed me up to watch her work."
Allen revealed the secret to her technique. "You just kind of turn it off. It's kind of like that's that. Pretend like okay, now I'm pretending that she's really dark and angry."
When Kevin Costner came into the story, as lovable neighbor and Terry Anne's love interest, Denny, the girls welcomed him. "It was actually perfect, because he didn't get there until after we'd all been together for awhile," Christensen said. "So it's kind of the same journey as his character went through, which is he gets thrown into this mess of crazy women, which he had no problem with, trust me. We love Kevin and Kevin loves us, but it was good to have him come into an already going operation."
Russell said, "I keep describing him as kind of like the St. Bernard of the story. We're like these really fiery always yelling crazy [women] and he comes in, big bear of a guy, and he comes kind of like a St. Bernard. I don't know how to put it. There's a whole generation of men right now, I appreciate them by all means, where we kind of expect men to be all these different things, like very emotional and all these other things, and Kevin is kind of that old thing. He's all man. He makes no apologies about it, he's a good guy, he's 6' 2", 6' 3", he's a MAN, and I appreciate it and I think he's great and so charming in this movie."
Wood said, "It was hysterical. We could never get through a scene whenever Kevin was in the room because Kevin could just give you a blank look and you'll just fall on the floor laughing. He's just got that way about him. He was totally cool. He wasn't strutting around the set or anything. Just really laid-back and nice."
Join the women of The Upside of Anger in theaters.
Dont't forget to also check out: The Upside of Anger