Zoe Cassavetes & Parker Posey Interview, Broken English

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline recently sat down with writer/director Zoe Cassavetes and actor Parker Posey at the Los Angeles press day to talk about their new film, "Broken English.”

In a mature and nuanced performance, Parker Posey plays Nora Wilder, a thirty-something Manhattanite who is cynical about love and relationships, in this astute collaboration with first-time writer/director Zoe Cassavetes. Nora plugs away at her job in a posh downtown hotel and can’t help but wonder what it is she has to do to find a relationship as ideal as her friend Audrey’s (Drea De Matteo) "perfect marriage.” It doesn’t help that her overbearing mother (Gena Rowlands) takes every opportunity to remind Nora that she’s still unattached.
After a series of disastrous first dates, she meets Julien (Melvil Poupaud), a seemingly devil-may-care Frenchman with a passion for living. Expecting another disastrous ending, Nora tries to avoid making the same mistakes. She finds herself in Paris looking to break old patterns. Inevitably, Nora has to look inward before she can find a new outlook on life and most importantly, love. Here’s what Zoe Cassavetes and Parker Posey had to tell us:

Q: Parker, you and Melvil had a really great screen chemistry. Was it there from the start or did it develop while you were making the movie?

PARKER POSEY: When you do movies you always hope that, you know, you’re dealing with projections, and my work is very internal and his work is internal, as well. You don’t know what is going to come together. You don’t know if the chemistry between me and Drea as best friends and with me and Gena as mother and daughter, and all that so it’s a weird kind of trust. And we didn’t talk a lot about it. We hung out a little bit, but the way we shot the stuff is I was alone from the beginning. It started as family, and then it was Drea and then we went to Paris and then we came to NY for the love story. So it was good that that came at the end of the film when I’d done all that other work before it. I love what he does in his movies. It’s really amazing. Because I didn’t know what his work was and I was very moved by what he was doing when I saw it on TV.

Q: Why do you think people get so fixated on finding "the” one?

PARKER POSEY: Because it’s part of the huge love myth. And the story is such a [inaudible] and the little princess being rescued and all that and then TV and movies that validate that.

Q: How was it like working with Gena Rowlands?

PARKER POSEY: It was amazing.

ZOE CASSAVETES: You better be nice. [Laughs]

PARKER POSEY: The first scene that we shot was this scene at the restaurant when she tells me to put on some eye shadow and blush and just go out there – that was our first set-up. I met Gena briefly and then I went out with her by her hotel and we just hung out and talked about the scene the day before we shot it. And I said, ‘What do you think about this line?’ [trying to remember a line from the movie] ‘I feel so desperate, so unlovable.’

ZOE CASSAVETES: I feel so lonely, desperate to find someone to love…

PARKER POSEY: What do you think of that line? I watched her my whole life. I remember a Cassavetes retrospective in 1990 or 1991. When was that? Was it 1990?

ZOE CASSAVETES: Continual. [Laughs]

PARKER POSEY: No, it was the big one. It was all of them. It was one of the first with all of them. It was by Lincoln Center. I was in school so it was a long time ago. I’ve always loved her work. She’s one of my favorite actresses. So it was like, ‘Are you intimidated?’ What an amazing person she projects as my mom and Zoe too. I felt such a kinship with her. It was all very relaxed, very easy. Zoe has a very familial kind of way of working which was kind of cozy. It felt really truthful and easy.

Q: Zoe, what was the inspiration for the movie? Where did your ideas come from?

ZOE CASSAVETES: What I like to write about are things that emotionally and recurringly bother me in life. I got caught up in the game where everybody was ‘Where’s your love…where’s your other half?’ and I got caught up and swept up in the whole idea that I didn’t have any worth until I found that person and therefore, creating the idea… The underneath layer of that is that you don’t really like yourself enough to trust yourself enough. So I’m obsessed with the idea of love on many different levels – love through family, love your friends, love yourself and who you give that love to, who you can take it from. So I just wanted to make a nice, little portrait about what happens to someone when they get caught up in all of that.

Q: Has your mother ever given you warranted or unwarranted ROMANTIC advice?

ZOE CASSAVETES: [to Parker] My mom gave you advice? [Laugh.]

PARKER POSEY: No, my mother just identifies really…I don’t know how you do it, how it’s done, it’s so different, it must be so hard. It’s that kind of…she feels for me, you know. She’s not bossy. She’s more empathetic.

Q: She didn’t try and fix you up?

PARKER POSEY: My dad got a letter from someone, a friend somewhere down south and like ‘My son lives up in NY in Brooklyn [laugh] and you might want to meet.’ I got this letter and it was hilarious that my dad sent me with photographs – I was just like [she rolls her eyes].

Q: Did they know the people who sent the letter?

PARKER POSEY: They sent a letter to my dad, these friends of my parents. They lived somewhere else. He’s not spoken for…she’s not spoken for and all this spoken for. Yeah, you don’t know what it’s like. It’s a whole different paradigm for couples right now.

Q: I was watching the "Point Break” DVD the other night and THEY were talking about how women directors like Kathryn Bigelow have a real attention to detail that a lot of male directors don’t have or it’s just more extreme. Both of you, do you think that’s true?

ZOE CASSAVETES: For me, the first thing I try to work with is the performance. I care less about what’s happening in the back of the room or what color. I mean I want it to look nice but it’s not where my eye goes at first. So I think my attention to detail has got to come in emotionally -- what happens. And then, you know, so many things are happening on a set and so many things are happening, I don’t really like watching the monitor as much as I just like watching the actors do their stuff. I mean I’ll look and see the frame and everything, but it’s great when you go back into editing or you’re looking at dailies and stuff and you watch it so many times and you start to notice different things. But it’s great when actors have their own life and take … like when you get them to do one little thing and it’s so different or quirky or one little movement or something and you go, ‘That’s so great! I didn’t think of that and you’re a genius and I’m so glad you did that.’ And then you make it work and cut it into the thing and it becomes part of the character. So I guess that’s where my detail comes in.

PARKER POSEY: You know women have more of what is the underbelly of things, what is really going on inside, and guys are more presentational or kind of – you know, they like their toys. Yeah, what’s underneath the surface. This is a romantic comedy but underneath it there’s like a deeper portrayal of what it is to be loved, to not be loved, to feel unlovable, to be lonely. Loneliness is something that we’ve all experienced in our lives and sometimes it’s really, really lonely and sometimes it’s how you get yourself out of it and what it is that happens to us individually that gets us out of it. It’s kind of like the machinations of that. I loved that about the screenplay. I love that kind of writing because the movie took awhile to get financing and I think it’s because people don’t know how to read that kind of ‘what’s going on underneath the surface.’ They go like, ‘It’s a romantic comedy’ which is like it’s such an amazing – like the dates that Nora goes on and how they’re portrayed and the detail of that. I think to have like -- you know they’re at the movie theater and they see an old movie and they talk and how the confrontations happen between people. How Nora hugs Josh outside.

ZOE CASSAVETES: He hugs you.

PARKER POSEY: He hugs me. Yeah.

ZOE CASSAVETES: I make you hug him. [Laughs]

PARKER POSEY: [Laughs] That stuff is very detailed.

Q: What’s been your worst date? We’ve all heard of those disaster dates? What’s been yours?

PARKER POSEY: Well I can’t really get this out of my head because it happened to a friend. A friend of mine had a really bad date from Match.com. I’m going to be talking about this because it’s so funny. [Laughs] She went out with this guy who had built a house somewhere and was really together. I forget what he did but somebody with a really together job. They’re having dinner in Brooklyn and he says, ‘You know, you have a really beautiful smile’ and she says, ‘Thank you.’ And he goes, ‘You didn’t hear me. I said you have a beautiful smile.’ She goes, ‘Yeah, I heard you.’ ‘But you didn’t say thank you.’ And she goes, ‘I said it under my breath’ and he goes, ‘Oh, so now it’s this.’ [Laughs] And then they went over to the promenade and he was like… they were sitting on a bench and she sits down and he goes [pretends to pat hand on bench to indicate she should sit down next to him] ‘Come here. Sit down.’ He’s like, ‘Hold my hand.’ And she got really worried.

Q: Didn’t she drive herself though?


Q: Oh, that’s right.

PARKER POSEY: It was a walk. It was a promenade. So then she caught the train and he goes, ‘So how was it? How do you think it went?’ She goes, ‘You know, we’ll see.’ And he goes, ‘I know what that means.’ She was like, ‘JESUS CHRIST!!’ She just walked away. ‘Well, we’ll see.’ ‘I know what that means.’ Oh my god. I need to duty date. That’s what I need to do.

Q: What do you think of that concept? That was pretty hilarious.

ZOE CASSAVETES: I think it’s very important actually. I mean in a way I always tried to date guys and it didn’t work out and then finally I was like, ‘Okay. Hi. My name is Zoe. I’m encased in glass. You can’t possibly touch me or feel any emotion from me. You can see me but I’m so not available for you.’ I think that once you start to get hurt, you start to build up a shell and you know, it never really worked out very well for me but you put yourself out there again and you give yourself a possibility of some sort of connection instead of just… You know you can get really bitter and really scared when things don’t work out so you got to do it I guess.

PARKER POSEY: Yeah, I think it’s important to just remain open, right? Just keep yourself open. Even the gesture for yourself of doing that, ‘Oh, I’ll go.’ I kind of had a blind date the other night. It was nice to just meet a certain guy and to have a conversation and to get to know someone briefly and …

ZOE CASSAVETES: You don’t have to marry them on the first date.


ZOE CASSAVETES: But you think that you do sometimes.[wavering voice] I’m going to [inaudible] if I don’t go out with that guy. [resumes normal voice] It’s like you can or you can leave.

PARKER POSEY: And the thing about Loren is she falls in love with everyone that she meets.

ZOE CASSAVETES: [Laughs] Anyone.

PARKER POSEY: She leaves herself open to be so hurt. So yeah, I think duty dating is good and a recommended thing.

Q: You talked about the film being shot out of order and that you guys went to Paris first before you did a lot of the romantic stuff in New York. That scene at the end of the movie….

PARKER POSEY: Was the first scene that me and Melvil did. That was wild. I mean that’s the thing. He doesn’t speak English. Well he speaks English and he understands it, but… I had already been working and had traveled all the way over there. Our first day is the subway scene and the bar scene. And that was wild. You don’t know what people bring and that’s why love stories are so fascinating when they work like this one does. It’s interesting. Like, oh he must have had some kind of similar journey. When I see Melvil’s performance in this, I think ‘He found himself. He’s known crazy women before. [Laughs] He has this kind of resolve within himself. He’s kinda like, ‘I know her. This is meaningful to me.’ And you can’t really direct that. You’ve just got to cast it. That certain thing has to come alive. So that was pretty wild, that was amazing. I love working with European actors. They have so much more of a respect for acting, a seriousness and focus.

Q. How nerve wracking was IT SHOOTING THAT FIRST SCENE when you know the whole movie hinges on that relationship?

ZOE CASSAVETES: So many other scary things happened before that, I was like, whatever. We had a small visa problem and that’s why two days before we started shooting we had to rearrange the whole schedule in a day and a half -- which meant maybe that I wasn’t shooting my movie. And I drank a lot of tequila that night and stayed up all night, and went in the office at 5am. My excellent crew came in, my AD came in. She’s like, ‘I’m slipping my surgery gloves on, I’m gonna change the schedule!’ I was like, [scary voice] ‘Okay!’ He was in NY. We were ready to shoot.

PARKER POSEY: We were going to shoot that Monday. I got back from doing Boston Legal on the Thursday, had wardrobe on Friday. We were going to start shooting on Monday. Then this whole visa thing happened and he had to go back. But we ended up shooting a little bit.

ZOE CASSAVETES: He left pretty quickly after that. He had to go to Cannes. He had made this kind of experimental movie about himself that was in the Directors Fortnight there. So he took off and it doesn’t take just a day to get a visa either. It was like ‘Does anyone know Bill Clinton!?’ [Laughs] It was kinda one of those days. I was really happy Parker had a few extra days to recover from Boston Legal.

PARKER POSEY: Because we were going to shoot on Saturday…

ZOE CASSAVETES: Yea. And we’d been shooting, so I knew what I was getting out of her was what I wanted. You kinda go to sleep the night before you start shooting and you’re like, ‘I wonder what it’s gonna look like, I wonder what it’s gonna feel like…’You don’t really know until you go on that journey and do it. We shot that first day with Gena and Parker. I was sitting under the camera and I was watching Parker do her thing and I was like well if this is how it’s going to go, I guess we’re going to be okay. We shot the movie in 20 days. So we were like, [snaps fingers] ‘Ready? Let’s go. Okay good, that’s good, now let’s move on. Let’s have this location and let’s have the next location be next door, so we don’t have to move any trucks and consider the time.’ We were in our rhythm by that point and Paris was really fun. It rained every day of our shoot in every place we were. Not to mention the Israeli Day Parade Band was on the block that we were shooting on. Anything that could happen every day did happen. We just all put our cheerleading outfits on. I learned a lot from Parker because she was so—we didn’t have any rehearsal time. I came out to LA which is where Boston Legal is shot. We sat on the grass and talked for like 8 hours about how the movie was going to be.

PARKER POSEY: Literally, like for 8 hours.

ZOE CASSAVETES: We got to know each other and got to trust each other. By the end of that conversation, I knew that she and I were on the same page and knew what we were going to do. I was really lucky.

PARKER POSEY: And then Justin Theroux, like we had Josh Charles.

ZOE CASSAVETES: No, we didn’t have anyone for that. And Parker is the kind of girl who’s like, ‘Well, should I just call Justin and see if he wants to do it?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah!’ He had just finished directing his own movie. I met him in the park on Hudson Street with his dogs, hand rolling cigarettes, ‘cause you know, you’re nervous when you want someone to do something! [Laughs] He couldn’t have been nicer but he had that full mohawk. And he said, ‘I gave myself this Mohawk because I wasn’t going to take any acting parts.’ And I was like, I can make this work. I can totally make it work. You can be like this Choctaw or something. Everybody had the right spirit. Everybody was a really good actor so it wasn’t like I was going to have to reshape everything that was going on. We did our thing and I would kinda guide them through whatever. Parker amazed me because she would go in and we’d be sitting out on the corner, having a coffee, doing your thing, they’d be setting up, I’d be chatting with them, she’s be like, ‘Ha ha ha.’ I’d walk in and she’d go [using a cowering, scary voice] ‘Ha,ha,ha.’ [Laughs] I was like, ‘How do you do that?! But thank you!’ It’s hard to shoot a movie out of order when you have a very emotional arc in a movie like that. So the first day we started shooting I sat down, I’m like, ‘Does she know her lines?’ I know Gena knows hers because I grew up with that. It wasn’t like I was doubting you, but you were just like ‘Is this going to go on right now? Are we going to do it?’ It was just like a big treat for me.

Q. How was it like working with Drea? How is she going to be as a mom?

ZOE CASSAVETES: She is one of the most generous, lovely, sweet, amazing human beings I have ever met in my life. She couldn’t be more there, more present. She’s a totally genuine person. I call her the tough as nails, with a heart of gold. She’s a broad, but she’s the sweetest person in the world. I think she is going to be an amazing mother and her boyfriend is an amazing guy too. They have such a good, steady, loving relationship. They don’t flaunt it, but you can just see it and enjoy it and it exists. I can’t wait to be Auntie Zoe.

Q. your mother in the film says a good man is hard to find at your age. Do you think that’s true?

PARKER POSEY: Well, I don’t know. Right now, I’m looking at early 40s guys that got married and had kids early and then got divorced. We’re lucky we live in America where there are so many diverse choices. I mean divorced choices. [Laughs]

Q. She does give you good advice—don’t hang out with married couples, always dress up no matter what when you go out, etc.

Yeah, always make a little bit of an effort. That’s what I am doing now.

"Broken English” opens in theaters on June 22nd.


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