The actress, who stars as a widow and Chris O’Dowd’s mom in Russell Harbaugh’s family drama premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, talks about why the role was “different than any experience” she’d had and why she’s optimistic for the future of women in Hollywood, including her daughters.
Russell Harbaugh’s Love After Love, which premiered Saturday night at the Tribeca Film Festival, follows a family after the death of its patriarch and how his widow, Suzanne (Andie MacDowell), and her adult sons (Chris O’Dowd and James Adomian) try to cope with their loss and move on, including with new relationships.
The film is somewhat unconventional in its lack of exposition and traditional dialogue, with viewers instead peering in on the family members’ lives.
The Hollywood Reporter‘s David Rooney says in his review, of Harbaugh’s approach, “Many of Harbaugh’s scenes are little more than fragments, often glimpsed through doorways or from detached distances, framed from questioning angles in a grainy palette by cinematographer Chris Teague. But there’s a real breadth to the emotional canvas, and a pleasing balance among the moments of lightness with ripples of tension and shards of festering unhappiness. While it’s not always clear where the drama is headed, the director keeps us involved in these people’s lives, building to a series of particularly strong scenes in the final stretch.”
In particular, Rooney singles out MacDowell for her fine performance, calling it her “most nuanced role in years.”
But the part is a relatively rare foray onto the big-screen for the actress who has focused on TV in recent years. Furthermore, she argues that her part in Love After Love is itself atypical one.
“It’s unusual for a mature woman to be offered something like this,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter. “There just aren’t that many roles out there that are written for women that are complex and this interesting.”
And she credits Harbaugh, who directed and co-wrote the film with Eric Mendelsohn, for crafting multiple, “fascinating” female characters.
Still, MacDowell, 59, says in terms of the availability of roles, not much has changed for her since she turned 40. But she’s encouraged by the younger generation and their understanding of gender equality.
Speaking with THR, she opened up about her hopes for the future of women in Hollywood, including her daughters; her experience making Love After Love, including scenes in which she’s in various states of undress; and not wanting to whine about the “reality” of growing older as an actress.
The film is sort of quiet. It’s not like there’s not a lot of dialogue, but what there is sort of seems like background audio, like you’re peering in on these people’s lives. Can you talk about the process of filming those scenes and a movie from that approach?
It was very loose. [Harbaugh] encouraged a lot of improv. It wasn’t necessarily something he was going to use, but he just wanted us to have a real life on set so that everything felt natural. He had us watch a bunch of films, Cassavetes, older movies. He had a very artistic form about the preparation, encouraging us all to dive into a feeling of a particular type of film. I watched so many movies in preparation for this that I already had a sense of what he was looking for and when they’d be setting up the scenes, it was different than any experience I had, the process, it was really slow. At first, it was a hard shift for me because I’d been doing television and there’s no time and preparation.
How challenging was it for you?
I think it made me better to be able to take the time like that, to give actors an opportunity to go deeper and not to feel pushed. A lot of times people will say, “Can you say it faster?” That really is a direction. You get that a lot. Pace is a big direction, in movies and television. And this wasn’t that kind of movie. When I watched it I felt like there was a lot of pace to my character. I think she says things [at a normal speed]. But the movie’s overall feeling is not rushed. It feels real; it feels like life. I think it is very much like life and it’s dysfunction and how people behave. It’s about behavior. That’s what tells the story — our behavior tells the story.
After Suzanne’s husband dies, we see her have relationships with other men. Why do you think she chooses that way of coping with her loss?
I don’t even know if it’s a choice. I don’t know if she’s making choices. I think she’s just existing. I think there’s such deep pain — it’s just getting through a day and circumstances. There’s such a deep loneliness to her existence. You see in the very beginning, just how happy and at ease she is. The love that exists between her and husband, it’s one of those bonds that’s everything. That’s her life. And without him, she has no life. Even her relationship with her kids, even though she loves them, is not really her. What was her is gone, and she has to recreate that all over again. It’s emptiness that’s inside; it’s just empty. So coming across another human being — you want to be touched, you want to be held, something to fill that void, the void that’s just gone. There’s nothing there. There’s one scene where it’s just me, there’s no words and the intensity of the sadness, that defines her. We did so many things that are not in there so it’s interesting to see what choices they made because there were a lot of choices. Every take was unique and different. There wasn’t much repetition; it was a lot of invention. It was interesting to see how they cut that scene with Matt Salinger so it’s just me laying there. Once again it’s like a void. She’s with someone but it looks like she’s not with anyone. She’s alone again.
You mentioned earlier that you’d been doing TV a lot and that maybe there weren’t many roles in movies for you. What’s your experience been like as a woman working in Hollywood? We hear about roles drying up…
Here’s what I’ve been thinking about recently. This subject matter’s been going on for a long time. This isn’t new. When I turned 40, I could not have an interview without a journalist asking me, “What does it feel like to turn 40 and know that you’re about not to be able to work?” There is a reality to it, but I never wanted to be one of those whiners. I feel like women come across as whiners when you constantly hear this. The younger generation — they realize it. All those young girls who did that [“Last F—able Day”] video. Nothing’s changed. I’m 59, and nothing’s changed since I was 40. Not much. I still don’t want to be a whiner. But it is what it is. It is our reality, all women. It is the reality. I congratulate Russ [Harbaugh] because all of the women in this are fascinating and [for] how he viewed me, because I think it’s good to reflect back on the movie with this question. I’m not one to take my clothes off in a movie. Not that I’m a prude or anything, but I think I grew up in a time where most actresses would get body doubles. I was always very conscious of what my children thought. I never wanted to do anything to embarrass them. Now, I’m liberated completely because my daughters are actors who want to be brave and I’m like, “Fantastic. I’m certainly not going to embarrass you.” I’m not the kind of person who’s excited about walking around without my clothes on. Russ said to me, “How do you want to do this?” And I said, “Well should I just show you?” And I went into the bathroom and started practicing what we’re going to do. And I said, “What do you think?” And he said, “You’re beautiful! You’re just so beautiful! You’re perfect!” That was the connection I had with him that I could take my clothes off in front of him and show him, “Here I am.” And “How does it look?” And after all of that worrying about taking my clothes off, it didn’t even affect me in the least, seeing myself naked. What affected me more was to see how sad I looked. The only reason I could do that is because I know that sadness. That to me made me feel more vulnerable that being naked. It had no effect on me, being naked, which is fascinating.
You mentioned your daughters. Obviously, you’ve had a long career. What advice would you have for young women coming up in the business now?
I think the young generation now, even men, I give millennial men a lot of credit because I think we raised our children in a different way. How women are treated is generational and evolving, it’s a process. So the younger kids are already so much better off. They’re much braver. They’re more secure. They ask people what they deserve. Even the millennial men are supporting them. You see that. They want women to have equal pay. They want to be treated with equal respect. I think I’m getting more from them than they’re getting from me. I look to them. They have the strength and the power that we gave them. We raised them that way. We kept telling them that this is happening to us, “Look at what I’m having to deal with.” And they saw it. I’m looking to them for support. They’re making the changes. It’s too hard for me. I can’t convince old guys that I deserve better. The millennials see it. I’m encouraged by them. I would just say, “thank you” to them, for pushing it along. I hope that by the time my girls turn 40, nobody’s going to ask them the questions they asked me, because I don’t want people to project on them anything different than they would on a man when they turn 40. Why don’t they ask men that question? That’s what I hope: By the time my girls turn 40 they will be treated equally and not asked dumb questions.