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Speaking for the nuns
Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and John Patrick Shanley share their Doubt
20.Aug.74, Aviano, Italy
JOHN PATRICK SHANLEY
3.Oct.50, The Bronx, New York
Filmography as screenwriter...
|B Y R I C H C L I N E
On the London stop in their press tour with Doubt, Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and John Patrick Shanley look a bit worn out, but still ready to face the press and talk about their movie. It's the middle of awards season; Bafta nominations have just been announced, with Oscar nods still to come. And even through the fog of jet lag, they constantly bring us back to the film's strong themes. This makes the interview a bit more serious than usual, especially for a Meryl Streep press junket.
They're all dressed in blacks, whites and greys, to match the film's poster behind them. Amy is an elegant redhead, a bit shy and actorly. John is relaxed and chatty and intensely serious about his material. And Meryl warms up as usual, keeping us entertained with her sharp comments, lively wit and hilarious eye-rolling sighs. We start by talking about the words...
John: Most modern plays don't translate well to the screen, because the economics of modern theatre is that we write plays that have only two characters in them! And Doubt is no exception - it had four characters, and so to turn that into a feature film required standing back from the dialog and looking at the story as a separate object, rotating it in your hands and finding the way in. But in the film I could include the kids in the classroom and the congregation and the boy who's at the centre of contention. And I can also show the voyeuristic things that one wants to see - how the nuns live in the convent and the priest in the rectory and the difference between those lifestyles.
How did you get involved, Meryl?
Meryl: I'd seen the play years before with my friend Cherry Jones in what I thought was the definitive portrayal as Sister Aloysius, and I thought it was a great, great, great play. And I never told you that, John! And I realised that just as I was saying this. But I never thought it would be made into a movie until John called and said, "Let's have lunch and talk about it." But my first thought was for Cherry - why wasn't she doing it because she was so amazing? And John explained that, besides financial considerations, there was the fact that he hadn't directed that production, and he wanted his own hands on it. And I thought that was really valid. And I sure would like a crack at Sister Aloysius! And like all really good pieces of literature, I knew this could hold a lot of different interpretations, over and over again. You'll see a lot of different kinds of interpretations of Sister James and Mrs Miller, but I'm really proud of what we did.
Was this more dramatic role a scary leap for you, Amy?
Do you look at Meryl and think maybe you'd like to that kind of career?
The boys in the cast probably weren't as intimidated by your career as Amy was.
So it must have been nice to act with so little make-up.
Meryl: Well, I had a great deal of old-age make-up on! [raucous laugh] And the prosthetics - that nose! But you know, the really freeing thing about playing these characters - speaking for the nuns - is that you throw away everything women normally waste a great number of hours of the day on: what you're going to wear, how your hair looks, how your face is, the state of disarray. Everything is gone. And it's probably the way we should be, instead of wasting a lot of time on the things that get you ahead in the world! But it was very liberating, and sort of spiritual, if I dare use the word.
Amy: I concur! I've had that question a lot, and in my own life, when I'm not in front of y'all - I'm using that word too much. I'm not even Southern; I don't know what's happening! But I don't really wear a lot of make-up in my own life so I've never been afraid to show that side of me on screen. I prefer for people to see what I really look like to keep the expectations low. That's what I look like; I accepted that a long time ago.
John, you've said Sister James was based on one of your teachers as a kid. What about other influential teachers you've had?
How did you research the role of Sister Aloysius?
Do you ever feel trapped by the words in a script or do you like having great dialog?
Meryl: A lot of things happen in a film outside what is written. As an actor, it's great to know that there's possibility in what you can bring to even a script that's densely and tightly knit. In this, John allowed there to be breath in the scenes - the pauses and the places where atmosphere takes over. On the airplane, I never watch movies with headphones - I hate that feeling of those things in my ears. But it's amazing how much you can understand what's happening in a really good movie that's well-edited. No offence!
John: I can live with that! I could tell even if there was no sound in this movie that you and Father Flynn didn't get along.
The world changed between the time when you wrote the play and made the film.
How do you feel about having double competition from Kate Winslet for the Bafta?
CLARIDGES, LONDON, 16 JAN 09
© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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