Stone in love

Stone in love

Four years after
Big Eden enchanted queer and straight audiences
alike, writer-director Thomas Bezucha returns with another
ensemble piece about love and family. Only this time,
the central character is a straight woman
trying—and failing—to make a good impression
on her fiancé’s family. But since the
fiancé has a gay sib and since the woman is
played by comedy diva Sarah Jessica Parker, gay audiences
are guaranteed to descend on The Family Stone
in hordes when it hits theaters December 16. The
listened in on a conference call between
Parker (in Manhattan) and Bezucha (in Los Angeles), as they
both enthusiastically discussed working together.

Sarah Jessica, I’m curious: What did you think of
Big Eden?
Sarah Jessica Parker: It’s my awful confession…
Thomas Bezucha: You’ve never seen it.
SJP: [Apologetic] I never saw it.
TB: Well, that’s OK.
SJP: But I have a feeling it’s going to
be in my Christmas stocking!

Tom, you have a huge, adoring following from Big
and we’ve all been waiting for
the follow-up. What accounted for the lag time?

TB: [Laughs] You tell me. I don’t
know. I set out after Big Eden—I
thought, Well, what was successful in that that I can
extrapolate? I figured, Ensemble. And boy, they really
don’t like ’em out here. And while
people have always loved the script of The Family
you put it in front of executives, and
there’s this need to categorize everything. Is
it a comedy? Is it a drama? And I think maybe there
was a “feathered fish” aspect that caused some
of the delay.

For both of you: Why do you think Sarah Jessica has such
a rabid following among gay men?

SJP: I think my lawyer has advised me not to
answer. [Laughs] It would be unsightly of me to
ponder that out loud.
TB: It’s her strength as a woman. She is
that delicious combination of extremely ladylike but
there’s a tomboy element. Where you know she’s
just ready to roll up her sleeves and get in there. I think
that’s got a lot to do with it.

Tom, you have a background in the fashion industry. Was
that a bonding thing for you two?

SJP: I wouldn’t say there was a lot of
time spent on that conversation, but it was wonderful
to have Tom’s extraordinary eye for detail—not
just his aesthetic, which is impeccable—but his
desire to be part of every detail of the set and the
costumes and the hair and the makeup, because
it’s all one, it’s all part of the same story.
The details on the set were so unbelievable that they
could only have come from somebody who has either
learned or developed a desire and interest for detail.

TB: Some reporter
asked me recently about dressing [Parker] and Diane
[Keaton], these two fashion icons. And it wasn’t
until someone actually articulated the question to me
that it occurred to me—I am amazed how little
conversation there was about it. You know what I mean? It
could have been a total disaster, but I remember how
we just saw things the same way.

SJP: This was one
of those experiences where everything was so right, and
every day you feel like it’s going to be the hardest
day, but every day you feel good. Tom had to wait for
this movie to be made, and the people he surrounded
himself with and the enthusiasm that surrounded him, these
experiences are so rare, it’s an impossible thing to

TB: Which I wish
people would stop saying, because it’s scaring the
shit out of me.

Tom, did you find it markedly different to be working
with a larger budget and under the auspices of a
studio after making an indie feature?

TB: Yes and no. I was anticipating what the pros
and cons would be and how many people I would have to
answer to, having a larger budget. Weirdly, the only
difference that I’m aware of is what it bought me in
terms of time. It felt luxurious to me in terms of our
schedule. Big Eden was, you know, 17
days—it’s like running through a burning
house. You just try to get out alive.

Sarah, having worked for years, obviously, with Darren
Star and Michael Patrick King and now working with
Tom, is there something that gay men bring to the
table, creatively speaking, that maybe other
filmmakers don’t?

SJP: You mean “filmmakers with different
lifestyle choices”? [Laughs] I would
hate to generalize, but I will say this: It’s the
kind of emotional experience that’s so important to
an actor—I think; I don’t want to sound
like a jackass—it’s the way somebody makes you
feel about yourself that makes the work. It’s
somebody that believes in you in a way that
doesn’t have to be verbalized all day long. And I
think that’s because—generally
speaking—guys dating men tend to be more comfortable
being demonstrative in certain ways.

TB: That’s

SJP: But I
don’t want to say that I haven’t liked working
for straight directors! [Laughs] They can be
helpful and kind and committed, but it’s a
different kind of communication. Outside of that, this is
something I’m very excited to tell you that is
completely unrelated to Tom’s lifestyle choices
[Bezucha laughs], and I mean
this—I’m excited for him and I’m
saddened at the same time, because I think that Tom is
one of the most special directors I’ve ever worked
with, regardless of gay or straight or man or woman.
He’s one of the best, if not the best,
directors I’ve ever worked with, and I’m happy
and proud and thrilled for him, but I’m also
sad, because I know his life is about to change.

[Laughs] You’re crazy!

SJP: But
it’s really important. I want everyone to know that,
because he’s not our little birdie anymore.

TB: “That
gay boy, he can direct!” Now I’m gonna tell a
story on you, though.

SJP: Uh-oh.

TB: I always
suspected I loved Sarah Jessica. When I knew it for sure
was…we had shot all of the exterior stuff back east,
and we were back on the same page in Culver [City,
Calif.]. It was in between takes, and I noticed her
knee, and it looked like…she took it down in the
fourth quarter. Her knee was all ripped up and scabbed
over, and she wouldn’t talk about it. It took
me about 30 seconds to realize what it was: When we
had been back east, we shot a scene where she had to load a
suitcase into the back of a car trunk. And I remember
the day we shot it that out of the corner of my ear I
heard her tell the prop person to fill it up, to make
it heavy, because that was part of the joke, that she had
trouble lifting it. And so she lifted this suitcase
onto her knee and into the trunk maybe 15
times—never said a word about it being painful. And
then three weeks later you look down and she’s
got this scabby knee. [Parker giggles] It just says so
much about her work ethic.

SJP: You know why
I did it, Tom?

TB: Why?

’Cause I think bruises are hot. [All laugh]

One of the Stone siblings is gay, right?
TB: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

SJP: The youngest
baby brother.

There’s this big thing with Sarah’s character
stumbling through a dinner conversation where she
inadvertently…I mean, the issue really is
nature versus nurture, and she begins to describe a position
that’s other than the family’s. It is
interesting for somebody who has maybe a large gay

SJP: In essence,
Meredith—the character I was playing—is asking
a question that some people are curious about and
never say. Meredith’s great flaw is that she
doesn’t know how to extricate herself from things
where other people might skillfully navigate through.
She’s really asking this question about what
parents want and if they could plan to have a child
who is gay or not gay—or in her words, “normal
or not normal”—and with the challenges
faced by the gay community, why would a parent want
any child to find themselves facing those particular
challenges. And she just keeps going, and as people
try to help her, the family becomes much more hostile,
as you can imagine, during this lovely Christmas Eve
dinner. She just keeps trying to explain it and in doing so
is really more and more insulting and offensive. Not
only that, but he’s deaf and his boyfriend is
black and they’re about to adopt a baby! [All
] Really, Tom, really, it’s…

It’s a minefield there.
TB: It is, you’re right. Meredith is set loose in
a minefield. But it was interesting, because they
think—and I was really careful in the writing,
for my own needs—what she’s saying
isn’t really horrible at all and actually
describes the sensitivity to the issue. It’s just the
way she’s relating it that they choose to
interpret a certain way.

SJP: If somebody
else might have asked the same question, it would’ve
been a really interesting intellectual swordplay or
philosophical discussion. But because she has done so
little to help herself up to this point,
there’s no window or room for error. But I think
it’s a really provocative conversation…

TB: …that
becomes her Waterloo. It’s funny: One of the things
about this film, the brother is gay and deaf and has
this black boyfriend—you meet them very early
in the film, before you know a lot of the other
characters. And it was really interesting, because the
studio did three test screenings, and there is a
segment of the audience that does not realize that
they are a couple until that dinner-table scene, which is
the halfway point of the movie.

SJP: Well, some
people, you discover, also didn’t want to get it.

TB: Yeah, there
was some feedback during the tests that the movie
promotes homosexuality, and there were some pretty ugly
comments. The worst of them, the one that was the most
disturbing to me, was somebody writing on a card,
“Gays shouldn’t have families.” The
good news is, of course, how incredibly supportive the
studio was.

SJP: I think
that’s, in a way, an important thing to hear.
What’s really amazing to hear is that, while
[the test screening] was out of Los Angeles, they went
just outside the city. I don’t know, I guess I would
just expect that a comment like that would come from people
that weren’t exposed to other lifestyles and
choices or didn’t have access to television.
It’s so crazy to me.

TB: It’ll
be fun to see how the movie ultimately plays. I can’t
think of a film, a recent film, that better
promotes—in a way—family values. The
true value of family.