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Stone in love

Stone in love


The director of Big Eden is back--and gay icon Sarah Jessica Parker's got him--with the holiday comedy The Family Stone

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 fiance's family. But since the fiance 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 Advocate 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 Eden, 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 Stone, 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 plan.

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 interesting.

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.

TB: [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?

SJP: '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.

TB: 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 following.

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 laugh] 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.

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