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Interview with Jessica Lange and Joan Allen, the stars of Bonneville

In Bonneville, Arvilla (Jessica Lange) goes on a road trip across the country in a 1966 Bonneville convertible with her two friends, Carol (Joan Allen) and Margene (Kathy Bates), in order to deliver the ashes of her recently deceased husband from Idaho to her stepdaughter (Christine Baranski) in Santa Barbara, California. Along the way, they learn to embrace life and find the true meaning of friendship while Arvilla copes with her grief. Tom Skerritt plays a friendly truck driver whom they befriend as well. This marks the directorial debut of writer/director Christopher ROwley. Jessica Lange has previously starred in Don't Come Knocking, Normal, Cousin Bette, Hush, Rob Roy, Music Box and Frances. Joan Allen has performed in The Ice Storm, Off the Map, The Notebook, Yes, The Upside of Anger, and, most recently, in The Bourne Ultimatum. I had the privilege to interview both of these warm and intelligent actresses who truly shine together in Bonneville.

SenArt Films releases Bonneville on February 29th, 2008.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What attracts you to the road trip genre?

JL: I love that genre. You look at the great road trip movies Badlands or Five Easy Pieces and theyíre classics, so I always wanted to do one. When this came up, that was the first thing that drew me to the story.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the first car you remember being in as a kid?

JA: I remember my dad loved Cadillacís when I was a kid. Heíd get these huge Cadillacís with the fins up in the back.

JL: We had a lot of funny cars when I was growing up, but I honestly donít remember the one that I drove myself.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What was your experience like riding in a Bonneville for the first time?

JL: Itís a beautiful car, a huge vehicle. We were quite comfortable in it. We spent a lot of time in that car and it was actually quite pleasant.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What genre(s) would you classify Bonneville as beyond just a road trip movie?

JL: To some degree, itís a kind of humorous film, a quiet film and an intimate portrait. There are no great events that happen to them on their way if youíre comparing it to Thelma & Louise. This film succeeds as a complete portrait of these three women and of their friendship together with a lot of lightness and humor, but a lot of emotion, too.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Have you ever been on a road trip before?

JA: I did a cross-country journey once 15 years ago from LA to New York, driving 5 or 6 hours a day and stopping to just, kind of, be there and do whatever was around.

JL: Iíve spent a lot of time on the road. In the beginning, in the late 60ís, early 70ís, I lived in the back of an Econoline van with a few dogs, a cat and a parakeet. We actually just lived on the road, on and off, for about 5 years. Now, Iím with a man who doesnít fly, so Iím on the road a lot again. [laughs] I have crisscrossed this country in more ways that I can even imagine.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What was it like working with the filmís crew during the road trip?

JA: The crew was really terrific. We had a great DP and we were all in it together and enjoyed it that way.

JL: Itís fun to be on the road with a whole movie crew. It really is. Thereí something great about it because youíre all thrown together and youíre out there moving from location to location. It feels like a troop of actors [or] a gypsy encampment thatís on the move. I love that part of it.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What was it like working with first-time director Christopher Rowley?

JA: This was his first film. For anybody, thatís a significant learning curveóit certainly was for me the first time I was on a film set. He is a very gentle person and creating an atmosphere where you feel like you can create and experiment is enormously valuable. A lot of directors donít know how to do that. Chris certainly does know how to create a safe environment and heís a very good listener, which you always hope for as well. He was partnered with a very strong director of photography which is important for any first-time director. The whole crew around him was very supportive. I give him really fine marks for coming out as strongly as he did his first time out of the gate.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Where did you and the crew hang out during the shoot?

JA: We hung out in Wendover, Nevada [and] our hotel was a little challenging to live in because it was a casino. Wendover was totally created to be a gambling city. We were there 4 or 5 nights. None of us were gamblers, [though]. There were maybe 1 or 2 people interested in gambling, but, down underneath, where all the slot machines were, it was quieter, so we hung out there a little bit at the end of the evening. Weíd play a little pool or have something to drink.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you expect there to be more films about women like this in the future?

JL: Letís hope so. Thereís a large void of movies that deal with women. Itís business, so if Bonneville does well, theyíll make more of these. Women are interested in seeing movies about themselves and I donít think they often have the opportunity. Those arenít the movies that are playing in the theater, for the most part.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you prepare for the emotional journey that your characters go through?

JL: The assignment that I gave myself when I started this film was how to make manifest the process of grieving without just breaking down and weeping. All of that factors into it, of course. Because grief is so internal, to try to make a way for the audience to be able to feel or to observe what sheís going through without the most obvious choices. It was a bit of a challenge on that level. I read a lot about grieving, but the most helpful thing to me was Joan Didionís book, The Year of Magical Thinking. It was very serendipitous to come upon that just as I was beginning this filmóthe first line of the book is, ďLife changes fast. Life changes in an instant. You sit down to dinner and, before you know, it ends.Ē That was how my character enters the story, having just experienced that.

JA: I did some reading in New York before I left. I spent time over the course of about a week with 3 different Mormon families. One was a couple assigned by the church to give newcomers a tour of Temple Square. Thereís an unbelievable store you can go shopping in which is for Mormons. I was like, ďWhoa, this is very wild and very expensive.Ē I spent time with one family in particular. The mother was very generous with her time. She took me to a womanís night at the church, which was very interesting. The camaraderie was really amazing. They were very intelligent. I was illuminated quite a bit. Iím not a religious person that way, but itís intriguing to find out about something because, I think, tolerance is important. It stretches my credibility, but to learn about it is one of the great bonuses of being an actor. You get thrown into a world that you just would never imagine yourself in. You can do that with a safety net that you donít have to live in that world forever, but you can experience it, which can be really fascinating. I was planning to experience ďLittle House on the PrairieĒ, basically. All the women had their nails done and hair dyed and fully made-up. That in-and-of itself was enormously enlightening. I had a whole different visual of my character than when I actually met the [Mormons].

NYC MOVIE GURU: What did you personally take away from being in Bonneville?

JA: I took away the experience of just doing it. There were wonderful things that I experienced watching Jessica and Kathy work, so I took that with me. I learned something about the Church of the Latter Day Saints, which was something that broadened me in terms of my world experienced. I never really been to the state of Utah and got to see some amazing landscapes, which also broadened me as a person. Thereís something to be said about good memories.

JL: Every film brings with it a learning experience. Iíve done a film dealing with insanity in Francis and the holocaust in Music Box. With Bonneville, it was interesting because we were really creating a portrait of a friendship between these 3 women and how it evolved. What I liked most about the film is that it was on a very subtle level. It was very impressionistic: pieced together with these very small brushstrokes as opposed to huge plot points. Every time you experience one of these films, you come away with having lived through something by proxy. That informs your life, a lot.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Can anyone come of age at any moment?

JA: I think you can come of age many times in your life. Life keeps asking things of you no matter how old [you are].

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