Momentum Pictures releases Ithaca on September 9th, 2016 at AMC Empire 25 and on VOD.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How challenging was it to decide what to omit from the novel The Human Comedy by William Saroyan?
Meg Ryan: I decided that the through line would be the telegrams that Homer delivers. The book is very episodic. It goes off in many different directions.
NYC MOVIE GURU: When it comes to finding the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually, which of those elements is the toughest to find balance for?
MR: The most important thing is to have an emotional experience for the audience. It's really a medium for that. It's nice when intellectual ideas can be woven through, but hopefully it's an emotional experience. The bigger themes get woven through subtly. In the editing room, the big thing that we concentrated on was that it was not a traditional narrative in the sense we're not telling you what's going to happen and leaving out the "Oh no!" of the inevitable. What Saroyan did in his book is pave out the poetry of life and the ability that we have to transcend tragedy that's the stuff of life. Even Homer's cynicism is as true in the book as it is in the movie. He's an emotional character. The characters around him have all the wisdom and their own confusion. Even though they're not perfect people themselves, they're helping him along the way.
NYC MOVIE GURU: If author William Saroyan were still alive today, what question would you ask him?
MR: He was a real character, it turns out. I would have loved to have dinner with this guy because he just sounded so fun and so passionate. He was such a maverick. He wrote this originally because as a screenplay for an MGM film He turned in a 250-page screenplay which was too long, but he refused to cut it down. He novelized the screenplay instead and won many prizes for it. I'd love to hear stories about that. He has a lot of symbology, like the eggs, in the book which is what I love about him. The symbols get woven very subtly. I'm glad that the symbol of the eggs made it into our movie from the book.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Why did you decide to put the title card against the sky?
MR: We had so little time and so little money. I kept on saying to the crew, "Shoot the sky, boys!" because it gave us scope. We shot in Petersburg, Virginia. We didn't have a lot of time to make the movie feel big. I don't know if it actually feels big, but the only reason was because we shot at sky. I love all the boys' faces, their freedom, the open sky, the cornfields. It was important to offset all of the tragedy. I think that Saroyan is, ultimately, an optimist.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Warmth, charisma and everything else related to humanism are truly special effects, but CGI are just standard effects. Do you agree or disagree?
MR: Sam Shephard is a real special effect. The experiences in the movie don't have to be about something loud, sexual or violent. This is a human experience. There's a 14-year-old boy trying to understand something and a mother who's trying to let go. Saroyan is a very good storyteller for all of that in a time when America became of age. There was no danger. I think right now there's a sense of danger.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Homer is growing up, but so is everyone else around him. Do you think everyone, regardless of age, is in the process of growing up?
MR: The title of "Ithaca" is a Homeric reference. The story of The Oddysey is really a story of a journey of constantly becoming and always evolving. Homer, in this film, leaves home and comes back as a different person. All of that was very deliberate because it's about how human beings constantly evolve. The other character who grows up so much in the movie is Tom. He was so stuck in his adolescence, and Homer helped him to grow and evolve. Everybody in the movie is always becoming. Mrs. Macauley is helping her youngest son, Ulysses, grow and to deal with the grief of losing his dad. The people have such dignity in their change.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How would you define charisma? Are you able to detect your own charisma as an actress?
MR: I can't really see that in myself, but I can see that in Alex Neustaedter. When he walks into the room, he's Homer. He has an undeniable presence. Maybe charisma is something that we shouldn't define. It's something magical, but it's real. I can see it other people--absolutely!