With so much import put on sex and women in Choke, there are surprisingly few female cast members to interview. Well we’ve heard from the director/writer/actor Clark Gregg, we’ve heard from the novelist Chuck Palahniuk, and from the star of the film Sam Rockwell and his co-star Brad William Henke, now it’s time for to let the lady of the hour take the throne.
Anjelica Huston, has been acting since the 70′s and she’s still breaking new ground with every film she makes. She’s known for giving some of our favorite villains hearts and in Choke she is no different. At moments you hate her, but god do you always sympathize with her. All of her characters are as young and vibrant as ever, and after meeting her it’s no surprise. The woman seems ageless, she’s as knowledgeable as a grandma, but as young and open as a child, and looks easily 10 years her junior. I had the honor to sit down and talk with Huston about her long career as an actor, her first impressions of Choke, and even a bit of Wes Anderson insight. So without further ado, Anjelica Huston…
*** Warning some spoilers ***
So you’ve taken on another role as a strong, dark, mother, do you find yourself attracted to characters such as these?
Anjelica Huston: I think it’s just a fatal attraction of mine to these twisted, dark, weird mothers, you know? I think that there are sort of similarities [they are] are highly deceptive, extremely selfish, totally riding on their own impetus without much of a care for anybody else; and — I think, you know–have this sort of tendency of a female fox to eat its own leg off than be caught in a trap and, you know, maybe even their son [laughs].
In the book, Ida was a bit less, lovable, you seemed to find somewhere where people could sympathize with her, how did you find the good in Ida?
AH: I think she lost a child when she was real young, and I think that’s part of her psychosis, and that’s why she took this kid. This kid was going to be in her image, he wasn’t going to be in anyone else’s image. This kid was going to know what she knew, he was going to know the fake aliases that people call out when they have, you know, “code blue” in hospitals. She’s going to teach him all the under trappings of the modern world. She’s going to educate him and make him hers, and that’s her basic approach with him. I think she comes from a place of love with him; she’s not a normal mother but then, you know, what is a normal mother?
I don’t make those judgments on my characters. It’s like, you know, you don’t really make them on yourself. There are moments when you’re a good guy and there are moments when you are not such a good guy. I think Ida’s doing the best she knows with what she’s got. She has to lie a little [laughs], but she wouldn’t have gotten [Victor] or gotten as far as she did if she hadn’t grabbed him and taught him a few tricks. I think Choke is all about love; it’s all about the insatiable quest for love. For your mother’s love, for your son’s, but mostly it’s about [Victor] and his quest for satisfaction.
What was it like working with Clark Gregg as a first time director?
AH: Great! He’s got a really good sense of humor. He is up for anything. He’s very loose; he’s a sweetheart. He’s really nice and kind and Irish [laughs]. Clark was really loose. Sam is really loose when he works. Sam is funny, you know, especially in that pudding scene I had to hear him up the hall going, “Tits! Tits!” [laughs] I’m lying there half dead with chocolate pudding in my mouth, suffocating on chocolate pudding, and the extremely brave Kelly MacDonald had to interact with the chocolate pudding and I’m hearing “Tits!” [laughs]
I heard that Clark Gregg and Sam Rockwell both enjoyed improvising on set, was that something you enjoyed doing as well?
AH: Yeah, you know, once in a while we would throw something in. Yeah, you know, little stuff.
Chuck normally uses love triangles to build tensions in his books, for Victor it’s very much the doctor, you, and himself. Between him and you, what was the third element?
AH: I would say, probably my ego, but also a child that I had lost.
How did you prepare for a character that suffered from such a variety of different stages of delusions and mental illnesses? Was there anything from your own life that you drew from?
AH: Well I’ve known a few delusional in my life [laughs], so there’s that. I didn’t really look it up online. I mostly used my own experience and my instinct and, you know, my feeling is that all of us are delusional. We all choose what we want to remember. We all chose what we choose to ignore even though we may not admit it to ourselves. So we are all beings of our own making, ultimately. I think perhaps Ida was a bit busier in the kitchen than most of us.
When did you first learn about the novel Choke?
AH: My nephew, Jack, whose become an actor over the past four years now, was a huge Chuck Palahniuk fan so he kind of turned me on to Chuck Palahniuk. I like new writing, I like new ideas, and I like to work with younger directors. It brings some interest and some exciting ideas to the prospect. You work a lot with older people, things are more regimented, they need a certain amount of money to get to this stage, and it become a bit more pedantic. Working with sort of younger directors… it’s like a new lease on life and not always having to do things by the number. I worked with my brother a little bit; I did a very small part in Bernard Rose’s new movie, The Kreutzer Sonata, and I just love the way he shoots. He shoots with five people. He has an assistant on sound; he shoots digital, he travels all over the place. I think he did that for about 25,000 dollars. He shot the movie up and down California: shot on a plane going to San Francisco, shot on the Golden Gate Bridge; did this entire movie without permits, you know, grabbed what he could get, stole what he couldn’t get. I like that it’s vibrant and it shows great initiativeve and I think he s a really fine movie-maker.
How did you think of the book compared to the screenplay?
AH: [I though it was] very good. I think it all depends on the director’s vision and how he sees the characters; but I thought Sam [Rockwell] was a fantastic choice and it’s a difficult movie because it has that sort of scatological aspect. You have to love this guy even though women, particularly a female audience, will not be primed to love Sam Rockwell’s character in this. You do love Sam, and he’s got this kind of– he’s a hurt little boy in the part. I think that’s how he gets through the whole sex addiction part, which I think at times is sort of hard to take, I think particularly for women, but I think something about the way he plays it and who he is and Sam’s personal compassion makes it not only a plausible performance but a really great performance
Can you tell us anything about working with Wes Anderson?
AH: Wes is very precise. More than precise, he’s super precise. Everything is thought through with Wes. His movies are almost one-dimensional visually, but have a whole sea underneath; and his movies are, for me, more about what isn’t said than what is said. They’re very atmospheric, they’re incredibly refined, and I think [pause] Wes has a completely unique style, one that I could tell if I was to be taken into a dark room and they were to take the blinkers off and show me ten movies and I could tell you in the first frame which is Wes’s. It’s a different style, it’s a different kind of film-making– a very concentrated one and never predictable. Like, you think you know what a Wes Anderson movie is when you go in and start to work on one, or if you’ve worked on one you think you know what to expect from the next [shakes finger]. Not so.
Any time that I’ve second guessed him or predicted something with Wes– I remember we were doing Life Aquatic and we were working in Gore Vidal’s house in Portofino, and I had one line and my husband had come to visit and I said, “I’ll be off by eleven, have a great lunch,” and I was still there at like 8 o clock at night saying this one line. I was like [whispers], “What the fuck?” You can just never predict him that way and it seems to me that he’s even refining it more and more. For [The Darjeeling Limited] I traveled three days to get to India to do maybe three lines [laughs], but you know those three lines in a Wes Anderson movie are super important, super huge. They are like a speech based on Shakespeare in somebody else’s and, you know, it’s all relative. By the way, my costume for The Life Aquatic, I swear it took longer for my costume fittings on that movie than it did for The Golden Bowl [laughs]. I had endless changes of costume, but its all about precision, it’s like fine cutting a diamond with Wes.
How does it feel to have such a strong following with younger and older generations of film-goers?
AH: I like to think that there aren’t too many age barriers in my life. I like the people that I like; and I’m always happy when people like my work and when young people like my work. Older people are a bit easier to satisfy.
In 2007, you ran a letter campaign organized by the U.S. Campaign for Burma, could you tell us a little bit about that?
AH: I’ve been very good friends with Jack Healey who has been the head of Amnesty International since the 70s when my father actually invented the phrase “conspiracy for peace” for Amnesty International. I met Jack at that time and we became good friends and we stay in contact. Jack is a hero of mine, he’s quite extraordinary, and Jack goes where the troubled spots are– in this case, Burma, a terribly troubled spot. We addressed the [United Nations] when I was in New York doing When In Rome. We went to the U.N. and talked about Burma; and unfortunately it was after the cyclone that hit. We started a campaign of TV commercials. I did one of Eddie Izzard and just worked to get some recognition for the democratic cause in Burma and tried to make an effort to house the military junta that basically disallowed all aid to enter the country after the cyclone. They are still in terrible trouble. It’s out of the news, but this is an ongoing problem. In areas in which I feel that I might be helpful or in which I’m approached by someone like Jack, or Jack, I feel it’s incumbent on me to do what I can. We also have a campaign with PETA to stop great apes in commercials and working in films, which I think is very important because they suffer terribly.
You’ve directed in the past, it that something you enjoy it? Would you like to do it again?
AH: I guess, [I found it] mildly fulfilling. By the time you are finished with this mantra of directing, it goes past—it’s like “Do you like prayer?”– and directing is every day, it’s the same thing from the conception all the way through the making of a movie, which sometimes goes up to a year. You conceive of this thing– the thing is written, it’s prepared, it’s cast, it’s shot, it’s edited, it’s color corrected, and it goes through all of its various refinements. You see this movie over 500 times so it’s not even a question of “Is my movie good?” or “Will people like my movie?” or, you know, “What’s my movie about?” It’s so hard to stay off track– that original thought or the original reasons that made you want to do it in the first place– you have to have a passion that is boundless for what you do and I think you have to be as fanatic as Wes Anderson, you have to have extraordinary enrrance and a real belief in what you are doing.
My first film was like a great gift. The director dropped out and it was all set to go. Jennifer Jason Leigh was attached which was a miracle; she is a great actress. I found a fantastic child who was the third child I met–a fantastic little girl called Jenna Malone, and we made a move called Bastard Out Of Carolina. Great script from a beautiful book and it was like heaven. We went off to North Carolina and had great actors and I asked for a lot of favors from friends of mine and I got some beautiful performances. I made it for [Ted Turner] and I sent all the dailies back diligently from North Carolina and everyone was fabulous– so great, so wonderful. I get a call from the chief executive from Turner and he says, “I would like you to come in talk about the movie,” and I went and he said, “Well, it was really wonderful, it was really, really good. There are just two problems: I want you to cut the rape scene and I want you to cut the molestation scene.” Well, since the move was about the rape of a 5-year-old child by her stepfather, it seemed a bit beyond the pale that they ask me to cut out the rape scene and the molestation scene. That’s what the movie is about. “What are you talking about?” he said, “Well, were not going to show it on Turner like this,” and I said, “Has Ted Turner seen it?” Ohh no. I said “Well, I suggest you show the movie to Mr. Turner!” Who was then married to Jane Fonda so I was totally secure that once he’d seen the movie, obviously he would see the necessity for these scenes.
So, the answer came back, “Oh, okay, maybe well show it to him and see if he’ll launch it.” So, a couple of days later I get the phone call, “Mr. Turner and Mrs. Fonda sat on the couch and screamed in horror at your film and he doesn’t want it anywhere near his network!” What do you mean? I went to bed– we were having a party in my house that night– I went upstairs and sat in my bed and listened to the party downstairs and thought, “This can’t be true.” Two days later I get a call from Jille Jacob who said [French accent], “I hear you have a movie, I want to see. Is it possible to see it?” and I said, [laughs] “Yeah! I’ll show it to you.” I showed it to him, it got accepted into “film festival”. Fantastic! Brought it to Cannes– and Turner wasn’t going to show it at all– foreign distributors wanted it. “We want bids, what’s the phone number!” [Ted Turner] wouldn’t even post a phone number. Wouldn’t let it be sold foreign. Finally, Showtime called and picked it up and bought it and the film showed without commercials.
So, it got seen. But, you know, you go through all of that and then somebody says “Ohh no! Mr. Turner doesn’t want the movie,” so you have to want it so much it has to be your life. I just think that unless you’re willing to go through a soul-destroying process on many different levels you shouldn’t even embark upon the idea. You have to be passionately in love with what you do, it’s the only reason to do it. Either that or, you know, somebody offers you a huge amount of money [laughs].