I recently had the chance to participate in a roundtable session with the director and cast of The Ballad of Jack and Rose, who couldn’t have been a nicer group of people. They were very kind, open and affable, taking time to personally greet each of us, shaking our hands.
The session was split into two parts, the first being with the film’s female lead, 18-year old Camilla Belle and the writer/director, Rebecca Miller (the second was with Daniel Day Lewis and Catherine Keener, which you can read here). Belle is even more stunning in person than she is on screen. Miller was animated and articulate, with beautiful long brown hair and white-blue liquid eyes.
Question: There’s a message in the film to dysfunctional kids and families everywhere. There’s so much in dealing with kids getting over their parents’ baggage to a degree…
Rebecca Miller: I don’t have a message so much, but I am talking about that in part, how family dynamics can go wrong. For example, Kathleen’s compulsion to try to do good by getting her son Rodney to slim down. Her child is her mirror, showing her an image she doesn’t want to see. They (kids) start out as mirror images of their parents and then they don’t have to be that anymore. Rodney and Rose get out, in different ways.
Q: How did it feel to go through a girl’s awakening on film?
Camilla Belle: It was sort of happening to me personally at that time as well, we were both 16. I was on the brink of that ‘coming-of-age’ time in my life. For Rose, and for me, it was sudden, not gradual, like for everyone else. It didn’t really bother me because I was in it. I didn’t think about it. It went really fast. But it made sense.
Q: What was the most difficult scene for you to shoot?
CB: I was pretty comfortable most of the time. I’d say the hair-cutting scene was a bit nerve-racking.
Q: Was your hair actually quite that long, or were you wearing extensions?
CB: It was actually that long!
Q: Shooting the film in sequence, how did that help you get into the moment?
CB: For me everything in the film was gradually building, becoming more emotional, so it helped. At the end of it all I was emotionally drained. At that point I took Rose’s view, that this has to happen, there’s nothing I can do about it. It was a huge shock. I’ve never had hair that short in my life! I think the rest of the cast and crew were mourning my haircut more than I was! But after a while, I felt liberated, I learned to embrace it.
RM: That was the idea, to help that process along. The stakes keep getting higher and higher, everyone gets emotionally charged, this happens, this happens. To do that in a disjointed way… we could have done it, but shooting in sequence added to it. There was a kind of liberation for the actors, they were on a roll. Even the crew were listening, as they were holding the mike. People got plugged into it.
Q: How long was the shoot?
RM: Seven weeks.
Q: How much of what Rose went through is an extension of your childhood?
RM: Fundamentally, I have to say this is a work of imagination. But embedded in a work is shards of the writer’s self. There are elements of my childhood. But those elements are universal. Especially the terrible fear of your parents dying when you’re young. If they die, your world is going to end. There’s an emotional core there, a wellspring, I kept feeding from over the years, kept the film alive.
Q: Was it difficult to shoot your husband dying?
RM: Yes, actually, yes it was. It’s kind of wonderful in a way. You’re still married, still husband and wife, but, you have to take some distance from each other in order to do this work, for him to maintain his imagination in this world and in this relationship, and for me to see all this with some distance and objectivity. It’s ultimately good for a marriage, to be able to see each other in a different way.
Q: Were you excited when he agreed to do the film?
RM: Yes, I was very excited.
Q: Did you discover something about him on this film as a person?
RM: I experienced some things about him in a closer range (chuckle). The intensity of his concentration. The way he’s so complete in the details of his character. It’s wonderful to work with somebody with that level of commitment. But that affected everybody. I could see and feel how Camilla was growing and learning.
CB: Working with him is a dream come true. I’m an observer, and just seeing how dedicated and how he knows his character backwards and forwards is so admirable, it made me really want to bring my character justice. By knowing your character so well you can’t go wrong. All of us kind of fell into that.
Q: You hadn’t had that experience in other films you’d done before?
CB: Not really. I’d taken three years off to live as a normal person, so this was my first time back into it, and it was kind of shocking, but then it was fun. Because I was able to submerge myself into the character, I didn’t have to go back and forth. You don’t have to work hard to bring emotions. It all just comes naturally, you’re there living it.
Q: Tell us about the location.
RM: One of our producers told us about Charlottetown (Prince Edward Island). I fell in love with it. I missed my connecting flight every time I was trying to get out there! There was nothing convenient about it! But it was just the most beautiful place. We really felt like we were at the edge of the world. The land really affected that communal feeling everybody had.
Q: Tell us why you cast Camilla.
RM: We saw 400 girls, and I was very nervous. Camilla, physically, was really striking to us, and she had a kind of innocence, especially at that time, it was unique. And she had this raw emotional power. She had a real connection to her emotions, a real understanding. She listens very well, and she’s very aware, and to be that open, that porous, letting things come in, that’s the mark of a great actor. We were really lucky.
Q: What did you like best about your character?
CB: When I first read the script, what stuck me was that you really didn’t have to control yourself, your feelings. like if you were angry at someone, you could just push them out the window, and I thought, I wish I could do that and not care! And living in the city you can’t do that, you have consequences. The world that she lives in is just magical, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.
Q: Were any scenes improvised?
RM: No, not really.
Q: If there’s one thing you want the audience to take
away from the film, what would it be?
RM: One thing is hard. One thing… is that love is complicated.
Q: How old are you Camilla?
CB: I’m 18, I’m going to graduate high school in a few months. (Everybody cheered.)