Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
I know how it is. Sometimes you agree to a junket interview just so you get a few minutes to chat with someone whose overall body of work you admire, no matter what film they’re currently promoting. When Mr. Beaks sent over this interview with James Garner, he said he wasn’t sure how much coverage of THE NOTEBOOK we plan on doing, but like I said... I get it. This guy’s one of those enormously charming actors who everyone has some sort of affectionate memory of, and this interview turned out to be a fun read:
Bret Maverick. The Scrounger. Jim Rockford.
And those are just the iconic characters he’s portrayed. Along the way, he’s also lent his indefatigable charisma to characters like race car driver Pete Aron in John Frankenheimer’s thrilling GRAND PRIX, dapper gangster King Marchand in Blake Edwards’s musical/comedy VICTOR/VICTORIA, and, maybe the best of all his screen work, druggist Murphy Jones in Martin Ritt’s gentle MURPHY’S ROMANCE. As for the less-than-memorable work, what has been said of Gene Hackman applies here as well: there have been bad James Garner films (TANK, for one), but there have been no bad Garner performances.
His very appearance in a film nowadays is a welcome bonus, and he makes the most of his supporting turn in THE NOTEBOOK, opening this Friday in theaters all over the gawdarned country. Garner plays a retirement home resident with an unusual dedication to jogging the memory of an Alzheimer’s patient played by Gena Rowlands, and it’s their presence that allows the old-fashioned trappings of Nicholas Sparks’s shamelessly sentimental tale to appear more genuine than they probably should. What’s more, Garner gets an unusually vulnerable moment near the end that will test the unfeeling resolve of the most cynical in the audience. Be warned.
When this junket was offered to me, it was Garner’s participation that most excited me (THE GREAT ESCAPE is one of my all-time favorite movies, while THE ROCKFORD FILES is easily one of the American television shows to ever air.) Happily, his likeable persona extended to real life, as he proved to be an eager raconteur when discussing with my roundtable his involvement in Nick Cassavetes weeper.
On with the show:
What’s going on?
We laughed and cried.
A lot of filmmakers are now afraid of being sentimental, but Nick Cassavetes seems to just wallow in it now without any restraint.
Well, yeah. We don’t need to apologize for anything. (Nick) did a beautiful job, he really did. He was our guiding light; he knew what he wanted, and he knew how to get it. I was just looking at it in the house last night, and I said, “Boy, it’s beautifully framed, it’s beautifully cast, it’s so beautifully acted.” I mean, every part in this film is perfect. Remember how you used to look at the English films years ago; the milkman would come to the door, and he had two lines, but they were perfect. And someone else would come along and have three or four lines, and *they* were perfect. Well, same way with this film. Every bit of casting was right on the money. That’s good, because when you get someone who’s a bad actor in there… you’re hiding for a couple of minutes.
This is the first time you’ve worked with Gena (Rowlands) professionally?
Yes. Damn it. I’ve wanted to work with her so many times because she’s such a wonderful lady. I’d put her in the top five actresses in this business. She might not have had one of those flaming successes that people rise to power on, but, boy, she never gave a bad performance in her life. And she won’t.
She’s like royalty in American Cinema.
Yes! That’s the way I look at it.
You’ve worked with several royalty-type people. Julie Andrews is considered royalty…
Audrey Hepburn. (Garner lets that hang out there as he mischievously raises his eyebrows.) And Shirley MacLaine. I’ve had a lot of ‘em. Sally Field. You know, you go back, and I’ve worked with a lot of very nice ladies. I’m very fortunate to still be married. Now that I think about it…
Did you establish your rapport with Gena right away, or was there some talking through the part?
No. We never really talked through the part. I knew Gena (well enough) to say “hello” in a restaurant or something like that, but I didn’t really know her. I just admired her a lot. We had always said, “Gosh, we’ve got to find a picture to do.” This one came up, and I wasn’t going to pass it. She’s great.
When you have a part that requires a lot of reading (Garner reads from a journal in many of his scenes), do you have to memorize those lines?
Oh, I read ‘em! Some of ‘em I had to memorize, but, no, I got to read them out of that book. And I like that. (Laughter.) Especially if I can *sit* and read. I never stand when I can sit.
That’s what Nick Cassavetes said: James Garner was the person he wanted to tell the story. If somebody was going to tell a story, he wanted it to be James Garner. That’s who he’d like to listen to.
Well, good for Nicky! He’s got great taste. (Laughter.) In all seriousness, he does. It’s such a nice film. I don’t usually go on about films I’m in, but this one’s extra special. I think that audiences, and there’s going to be a wide range of audiences interested… they’re going to learn a little something about Alzheimer’s. And about love.
Did you cry when you saw this film?
No. I cried during the film. I knew what was coming, so…
You’ve played so many tough characters that that scene seems to affect people that much more.
I haven’t thought about that, but I guess that’s true. They’re not used to seeing me in that situation.
How did you get worked up for that scene?
I didn’t. I watched Gena, and it just tore me up. It got me right here in the gut, so what came out… I didn’t know… well, (quietly and almost sheepishly) everyone’s saying it’s very good.
Did you worry that maybe it gives people a false hope? A lot of people have been touched by Alzheimer’s. Is it a good hope?
Oh, I think it’s a good hope. I think everybody wants to know that maybe they can connect one more time, if just for a second. I think everybody would like to believe that. Doctors say it can’t happen; I disagree with them. My Aunt Emma – of course, they called it senility then – she’d connect every once in a while! Then she’d go right out of it. She didn’t know me, or my two brothers, didn’t know her sister, knew everything that happened to her when she was eleven years old. She could recite things that happened to her. I used to love to listen to her.
Nick is rare for a director in the modern era for eschewing the video playback. He doesn’t like to use it. So, he’s down there with you…
I think it’s so much better.
You like that?
I only directed once or twice, but I want to look in their eyes. On screen, your eyes tell as much as anything. You get right in here (pointing to his eyes) and you can see things happening in peoples’ minds. That’s the way directors should be. They should be sitting there looking at the person, because to look at it on tape is not accurate. You miss a lot, I think. When they first started doing it, I said, “This is silly.” I still think it’s silly. There are scenes where you need it, like where you’ve got some big musical number. But they did ‘em before that and did pretty good musicals. (Smiles.)
You and Ryan Gosling are playing the same character in the film. He talked a little about coming in and watching you when he had the opportunity to—
I didn’t know that.
What did you think of his take?
The only thing I told him was, “Don’t get your accent too thick.” Because it was Southern and all that, and we just barely hit on that accent. We didn’t talk about too much. I was very concerned, I told Nicky, “He’s blond hair and blue eyes, and I’m brown hair and dark eyes. How is this going to work?” He said, “I wanted the actor. We’ll make it work.” So, they bleached my hair, got it a little lighter, and he wore brown contacts and got his hair a little darker. It worked out very well. I tell ya, he and Rachel (McAdams) just did a magnificent job. They’re two wonderful actors.
Did the fact that you’re a part of one of Hollywood’s longest married couples have an influence on the role you were playing in this film?
No. It makes you think what… I’d do if this happened to her. I know what she’d do. She’d be just like Noah was in the film; she wouldn’t leave me alone. She’d be all over me, getting me better or whatever. She wouldn’t know, but she’d be trying. And I know I would be, too.
THE GREAT ESCAPE was just recently re-released to DVD—
It was just on television yesterday.
It’s a great film. It’s such a smart, literate action film, and we don’t see films of that scope that are that smart nowadays.
No, they don’t write a story. They don’t write a story anymore. They say, “Look, we’re going to blow up… Nicaragua!” You know, that’s all they’re interested in: how many things they can blow up. Story? Forgot that. We’ll blow something else up. You know, they talk about SPIDER-MAN, which is going to be our opposition. Okay! I’m sure they have a wonderful story. (Pause. He shakes his head. The room laughs.) I like stories that appeal to the human condition. It doesn’t always have to be a love story, but if it’s dealing with people and their problems… that’s what I’m more interested in.
Can you be specific about THE GREAT ESCAPE in that context?
Well, it’s a true story. And they followed it as closely as they could.
With some liberties.
Oh, of course. You can’t make a film and not take a little artistic liberty.
I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but there are several online petitions to bring THE ROCKFORD FILES to DVD. It’s got a huge cult following, and I’m wondering if you’d be involved in that, or if you’ve heard anything about it.
Nobody talks to me about that. They’re going to do what they want to do with it. I hope they do, because… I’ll own thirty-eight percent of it. (Laughter.)
Do you go to movies much anymore?
(Garner shakes his head.)
Are you just not even interested?
Just not interested.
Is that because most of the films that they’re making?
Well, they’re just not subject that I like. I was hoping MASTER AND COMMANDER would be a little better than it was. I liked it, but I was hoping it would be better than it was.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started off in this business?
I didn’t know anything then, and I don’t think I know anything now. (Pause.) But I know *that*. I don’t know. You see, I had no great expectations. I did it because I thought I could make a few dollars at it, and not until I was doing it for about two-and-a-half years did I take it seriously. I got married, and she had a daughter eight years old with polio. I had a responsibility. And once I took on that responsibility, I worked hard at it and learned to love it.
THE NOTEBOOK opens on this Friday, June 25th, in theaters nationwide. Tomorrow, look for a chat with the film’s rising young star, Rachel McAdams.
Okay, so James Garner is a beloved character actor. Why would Beaks sit down with MEAN GIRLS hottie Rachel McAd... oh, wait. Just figured it out. Never mind.