Grasshopper films giving Lodge Kerrigan’s beautiful movie Keane a 4K restoration and bringing it back to life on big screen across the US is a highlight on its own. And when the 4K restored Keane screening at the Film Society of Lincoln Center is coupled with the director and the actor Damian Lewis intoducing the film together, watching it with the audience and doing a lively Q&A after the screening makes it a top moment! And I feel very privileged to have shared that special evening – full house at Francesca Beale Theater – with Mr. Kerrigan, Damian and my fellow independent movie fans. The evening felt like a collective celebration of independent cinema.
I hope the following account of the evening does justice to this amazing event. Without further ado, let us dive into the Q&A.
Me being me, I went to the event with my questions ready, typed, printed – in short, I could have moderated the discussion in case the moderator had not shown up 🙂 We discussed a few of the questions with Gingersnap the evening before and I told her that I would keep my fingers crossed that the moderator would not ask all of them. And guess what? All my questions were covered one way or another.
‘Keane’ is a movie that leaves you tensed up. Damian, probably because he knows that, breaks the ice.
“There are couple of funny moments in it.”
Christopher Abbott opens the Q&A saying Keane holds a special place for him. It is the first Lodge Kerrigan movie he saw and Damian is “so damn good in this” (big applause here in the room!) and that he does not want to use the word “steal” but he was inspired by Damian’s portrayal of ‘Keane’ in one of the films he did.
The first question has an emotional aspect to it. How does it feel like to re-visit your work from seventeen years ago?
Abbott: Do you feel detachment, do you feel removed from it? Joke aside, do you still like it?
It turns out Damian has not seen the movie since it was first released in 2005. That said Keane has always been a very personal movie for him for “obvious reasons.” Damian is almost in every scene of the movie.
“I think it is exquisite to see it again… I love the very subtle tones all through it, I’ve forgotten about the menace that existed in it, alongside the thriller element, I’ve forgotten how exquisitely Lodge mirrors, when he is there with “Little Miss Sunshine” at the end, mirroring his own (Keane’s) experience with his daughter.”
And he goes on to answer the question I’ve always had in my mind about William Keane: Does he really have a daughter or is the whole thing in his mind?
We learn that Damian and Kerrigan had conversations about whether Keane really had a daughter or or everything was just in his mind and it was always clear to them that it was real.
“That heart-stopping moment, we think he’s going to abduct this lady’s child, and then doesn’t. He’s just done it quietly in a nuanced, subtle but a devastatingly effective way at the end. (Turns to Kerrigan): You made an amazing film.
“We made it together, Damian.”
You can capture both the emotion and the fact that these two genuinely like each other in their faces. I hope they consider working together again.
Damian goes on to joke that when he first read the script, he said to himself “this is like the greatest hits of behavioral problems and he is going to town with this 🙂 He did not know if the film could come together. Lodge Kerrigan told him that, if they will do this together, he will come to London, stay with him over a weekend and they will workshop the project. And by the end of Kerrigan’s 2-day London trip, Damian knew that he would make this film.
“The narrative drive was absolutely intact. It would be nuanced and subtle, and directed beautifully.”
Kerrigan talks about the technical aspects of the restoration. He supervised the restoration with editor Kristina Boden. He finds the experience very interesting because he typically watches a movie once with the audience and moves on. So he watched Keane back in 2005 and now he had to re-visit it for the restoration. In the grand scheme of things, he says, there were only minor changes he would make, but in the end, he decided that the movie is a document of the period it was made in and it should stay that way.
Abbott wants to talk to Damian about how he was able to voice Keane’s interior thoughts as the camera followed him like a shadow (in case you have not seen the film, and you should, but FYI there are a lot of close-ups on Damian that adds a certain level of claustrophobia to an already psychologically intense movie) and he had to “dance with the camera” as he had to voice the character’s interior thoughts on screen.
Damian admits it was challenging to get it right. He tells us that Kerrigan used to ask him “take it down, take it down, take it down” until he took it down to a whisper – as internal and intimate as it gets – so the viewer can see that the character is not well – he is basically talking to himself.
Damian enjoyed the dance with the camera on set because they worked with John Foster, a great cinematographer. An odd thing, he says, that actors always have to do is to immerse themselves in an alternative reality while they are “aware of the dance with the camera.” Foster initially had to figure out where the camera would be, and Damian adds that the camera work looks spontaneous in the movie only because they rehearsed every single camera move in every scene for a long time before filming. It may sound insane but every scene was one 4-minute shot with a hand-held camera (Damian mentions they had to rent “357/358”). Foster had to learn the scenes on the day, and accordingly figure out how to do the job and he certainly rose to the task.
And it is so lovely to see the back-and-forth between the actor and the director. Damian says he used to tease Kerrigan for an establishing shot.
“Give me one establishing shot, Lodge. One wide. One. Give me one.”
Kerrigan is quick.
“There is the bus station.”
There you go!!!!! 😀
The next question is a hypothetical one. But Abbott makes a good point here. He says Keane feels timeless and asks whether they can make it now. Abbott saying he thinks they can and not only because Port Authority still looks the same brings a HUGE laughter 😀 I love New York!
Kerrigan: “So does Damian.”
Abbott: “Absolutely. You look fantastic.”
Damian: “We all agree on that.”
Me (in my head): “No. He doesn’t look the same. He looks better.” 😀
Joke aside, Kerrigan tells us that he got three things from revisiting Keane. Firstly, the movie was “still very much in the moment.” The second was the acting, not only from his lead but also from Amy Ryan and Abigail Breslin who was only 8 years old at the time! He says, as an audience member, he’s only interested in “the life in front of camera” and Keane feels “alive, on the edge, and somewhat dangerous.” And the third was that he did something crazy! 🙂 Kerrigan wrote most of Keane on location at Port Authority. He used to wander around mumbling monologues with people passing by probably thinking he was just another crazy New Yorker. But he wanted to shoot in live environments and so he walked around on the streets, at Port Authority or through Lincoln Tunnel to Bergen County, NJ where the cheap motels are, to capture the energy. And he wanted to film one shoot per scene. While Steven Soderbergh wholeheartedly supported the idea, his friends and colleagues told him this was insane. And having watched it today with us, Kerrigan agrees with his friends and colleagues! 🙂
While calling himself totally crazy for doing one shot per scene, Kerrigan is clearly a supporter of small budget films and he is very happy to see that companies like Grasshopper are trying to bring those films to audiences. And he encourages people to keep making these movies.
The final questions Abbott has are more remarks than questions. Firstly, he finds a “documentary” feel in Keane because there is no backstory and we see the lead character interacting only with strangers in the movie.
Kerrigan points out to what Damian mentioned earlier in the Q&A that it was clear for them from the get go that Keane had a daughter and she was abducted. But the director is not interested in explaining emotional lives through dialogue, instead he wants to express it through behavior – which makes characters more interesting. Kerrigan argues, and I find it compelling, that the way Keane has patience with Kira shows that he is a parent.
Abbott now turns to Damian to get his insight about the scene at the ice rink where Keane is teaching Kira how to ice skate but then, beaten by his demons, he is exploding towards strangers.
Damian says this scene goes back to what they have been discussing – Keane’s back story. He was a good parent and something dreadful happened to him. He also points out an interesting observation: Keane seems to have more money than other characters in the film.
“He’s in a welfare motel, but he has always a bit of cash to get some coke or to give out hundred bucks. So who was this guy really? Middle class, stable guy with a house? Whose life unravelled, you know, quickly over a short period of time because of this dreadful, dreadful thing that happened… You know, maybe it started with the divorce which we assume is real… then he lost his daughter… and now he’s one of the guy at Port Authority.”
Damian now remembers a woman he saw every morning at Port Authority. She called herself “Tina” and claimed she performed with Ike! When Damian asked her if Ike was still hitting her, she said “he hits me sometimes.” She used to wash in public bathrooms, and managed to sleep in the back seat of a bus every night. This is how Damian did his research about how it is like to be one of the people at Port Authority. He and Kerrigan also visited some welfare motels in New Jersey.
And where Abbott finds a “documentary” feel, Damian seems to find a Shakespearean narrative.
“It’s very Shakespearean what we’re talking about here. Shakespeare puts people on stage and they act. Pre-Freud, doesn’t need a lot of back story, and you learn from the characters as they act. Through their actions you learn they are evil, they don’t tell you why they’re evil, you know… daddy issues… pre-Freud. It’s just they act and you discover throughout the course of the play.”
And this exchange about how to explain through actions rather than dialogue could be one of the best I have seen at any director-actor Q&A and, believe me, I saw MANY!!!
Time for audience questions! And, of course, as people think of what to ask, my hand is up in the air already! I GOT THIS! 🙂
I have read in a recent interview with Lodge Kerrigan that he was tempted to cast Damian as William Keane when he saw his portrayal of Dick Winters in Band of Brothers. And I know Keane was instrumental in Damian getting cast in Homeland: Here I say “Nick Brody – my all-time favorite fictional character. So thank you, Keane. Thank you, Mr. Kerrigan. Can you give us some insight about this?”
“We try to keep these things quiet so people don’t start asking for checks.”
😀 😀 😀
“There is a lovely little thing in there and I’ll share it, a little bit of showbiz gossip, I guess, some inside scoop. Thanks, Bahar, for the question. Yes, when they were trying to cast Homeland, they were struggling to cast Brody. And it was another East Coast director, whom I admire very much, called Michael Cuesta, who made a film called L.I.E. back in the day in the same sort of time… He was brought on as the lead director on Homeland. And they couldn’t cast Brody, they already had Claire, they already had Mandy. And he said: “Watch this movie. I’m a huge fan of the director. It’s remarkable.” This is Keane. Back in the day when you still got your Netflix on a CD, and they weren’t all available. Some you could get, remember the time, you ordered the CD and some were already uploaded, so Alex Gansa, who wrote it, looked it up and is telling me the story later: “If I had to order the CD and waited a day for it to arrive I wouldn’t have bothered. So someone had paid for the rights, so I sat and watched 20 minutes of it, it was 11pm at night, and went home 90 minutes later having watched the whole thing.” And he came to ask me to be Brody. Thanks, Lodge.”
Oh My God. Can you imagine a world where someone else was cast as Brody? I would still probably “discover” Damian in one of his excellent roles, but I do not think anybody else but Brody would make me launch a blog in Damian’s name.
Damian adds he was able to return the favor, and Michael Cuesta was again instrumental in this, and got Kerrigan his first TV job. Kerrigan directed Damian in Homeland Season 2 Episode 3 State of Independence in which Brody gets done with the tailor!
The last question of the evening comes from another audience member who asks about shooting on live location. Port Authority is a place where you have zero control over your environment so the question is whether anything quite unusual happened as they were filming on live location.
Kerrigan says he does not remember a highly unusual event but it was frustrating when someone asked “are you making a movie?” as they were three and a half minute into their 4-minute film! OMG! Damian talks about their 10 to 20 extras being the barrier between the film cast and crew and the “bogies” – a fast shorthand to say that someone who is not part of the scene is coming into a shot.
But he also talks about how they prepared to shoot on live location. He and Damian spent time together, and during rehearsals, they all spent time on locations, they read through the material and improvised some of the scenes. They had answers for all camera work related questions before filming. So when they finally started the shoot, there was an “unspoken communication” between the director and his actors. The actors had complete understanding of their characters. And especially when they filmed at Port Authority, because Damian was ready to go, Kerrigan felt what he had to do was to have his crew focused and step out of the way.
And Damian remembers a coordination issue regarding the long takes they did. He was ready to go early in the day while Abigail Breslin, who was only a 8 year old child, was not, it took time for her to warm up. And when Kerrigan came to Damian to ask “can you get it together? she’s cooking now” he was crying like “but I was cooking early on” 😀 They had to d0 7-8 takes for a scene and Kerrigan adds they prayed as they were three and a half minutes into the take that nobody asks whether they were making a movie 🙂
Damian has the last word.
“We made a movie.”
Yes you did. A very beautiful one that will have a long life!