BY Ari Karpel
March 09 2011 5:00 AM ET
Haynes oversaw a meticulous re-creation of the book’s middle-class milieu and its costumes and domestic interiors. The miniseries’ luxurious time frame lets audiences sink into Pierce’s world of pie baking, chicken cooking, and Scotch drinking. (That last one was shown in detail in the original movie, which glossed over the entrepreneurial spunk that yielded Mildred’s eponymous restaurant chain.) Though daughter Veda is still full of rage, as played by Evan Rachel Wood, she is a more grounded presence than you’d expect given the actress’s scenery-chewing as Sophie-Anne, the vampire queen of Louisiana, on True Blood. “I loved her on Once and Again,” recalls Haynes of Wood’s subtler performance in her first TV series.
Unlike some of his fellow directors, Haynes is not an “It’s not TV, it’s HBO” snob. “I love television,” the New York–based filmmaker declares. “I mean, there are so many great shows, do I even have to mention them? Mad Men, Six Feet Under…right now I’m addicted to The Good Wife.”
Pierce takes a complex view of mother-daughter relationships. “I think Mildred’s need for approval from her child is something that every mother does feel, whether it’s a daughter or a son, actually,” says Winslet, herself a mother of both. “And with Veda being this determined, defiant creature, so out of Mildred’s grasp… I think that in Veda, Mildred saw her own disappointments, like little pieces of Mildred kept dying every time she saw how brilliant and wonderful and rich Veda was.”
It’s a dynamic Haynes was eager to explore. “The perils of separation and the devouring of mothers and daughters by each other is innately dramatic,” Haynes says. “Maybe gay men can understand that, like women, more than straight men. But,” he adds, “I hate making these categories.
“I think female subjects remain the most colorful because women play this object in historical posturing, and particularly in changes in status and class,” he continues. “Women play that out in how they dress and behave. Think of our moms and how they register social standing. Who we’re supposed to be as a family is determined by the physical manifestations and values of the mother—my mom, certainly.” As women change their hair and their clothes, he says, the cultural cues shift.
Not to take anything away from the Crawford film, but Haynes’s approach is a more nuanced examination. Interestingly, Crawford herself is going through a bit of a reassessment lately, thanks to a biography, Possessed, by Donald Spoto, which contradicts the image cultivated by Mommie Dearest, just as Haynes’s project prompts a reconsideration of Crawford’s finest film. Cain’s nearly forgotten masterwork is a deeply felt story filled with more melancholy than rage, about an ordinary woman who makes her circumstances extraordinary.
“Mildred creates this dynasty, this little empire of productivity out of romantic and familial frustration and yearning,” the director explains. “So there’s no clean character, there’s no one uncontaminated, there’s no Joan Crawford in this movie who’s going to come out completely clean — it’s a very different story.”
As if on cue, Jeff Klein, the owner of the Sunset Tower Hotel, comes over to say hello (Klein’s fiancé, John Goldwyn, was a producer on Haynes’s I’m Not There). “I cannot wait for Mildred Pierce,” Klein gushes sincerely. “It’s my favorite movie ever.”
“I hope you like it,” Haynes replies. And without missing a beat, adds: “It’s very different.”