Q&A with Daniel Day-Lewis & Catherine Keener

Daniel Day-Lewis and Camilla Belle in 'The Ballad of Jack & Rose'
Daniel Day-Lewis and Camilla Belle in ‘The Ballad of Jack & Rose’

As I said in the Q&A with Camilla Belle and Rebecca Miller, I recently had the chance to participate in a roundtable session regarding the film, The Ballad of Jack and Rose, which opens today. Everyone was so kind, and after the interviews with them we had the opportunity to talk with Daniel Day-Lewis and Catherine Keener, two of the film’s stars.

The two came in refreshed and relaxed, exchanging handshakes with the entire roundtable. Catherine had slightly fractured one of her wrists but was in good spirits. Statuesque Daniel appeared as if he was ready to hit the pubs, looking comfy in a wool sweater, his shoulder length-hair tucked under a cap, with piercing blue eyes and a winning smile under a mustache and beard.


Question: There’s a continuity to the roles you play that has to do with you being an outsider/observer. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Daniel Day-Lewis: I never thought about it like that, but it might be true. I’m probably not the best person to tell you, but, um, I guess I did always feel like a bit of an outsider, so maybe it’s found it’s way through to the work. I don’t know.

Q: There’s a reference in the production notes about you spending several months thinking about whether you were going to do the film…

DDL: I read the script many times over the years, more than I’ll ever read any script. Rebecca had sent it to me about ten years ago, before we’d met. And then over the years she worked on it, and we looked at it together a number of times. I thought I was reading it in an objective way, and I think I was most of those years. And then somehow it got inside of me, to the point that there was no avoiding it.

Q: Is it something personal?

DDL: It’s always something personal, but you don’t know exactly what it is, you can’t really explain it. Or if you could you wouldn’t try to, it could be a moment in time that’s unrepeatable…

Catherine Keener: Do you often not look at scripts?

Catherine Keener in 'The Ballad of Jack & Rose'
Catherine Keener in ‘The Ballad of Jack & Rose’

DDL: You mean when I’m working?

CK: Yeah.

DDL: I usually look at them a lot in the early stages, and then not at all for a long time. How about you?

CK: It’s about the same.

Q: Why, do you want to keep it fresh?

DDL: Most of what still needs to be discovered lies outside, beyond the script itself. The script, if you like it, which you usually do, will take care of itself.

Q: Can you talk about the location?

DDL: It’s rare. It was a rare time. Rebecca loves working with actors, and I think she understands extremely well the environment they work best, how to create an environment that she knows is going to get the more decent creative possibilities.

CK: It was very exciting time. The light was otherworldly, the terrain, you’d just get lost, everything was just completely different. Very beautiful. An incredibly special place.

Q: Why were you drawn to playing Jack?

DDL: The reason I was interested in Jack, and it would be the same reason I’d be interested in any piece of work, I suppose, is that he seemed to belong to a world I didn’t understand, and that he was a mystery to me. Now that may be unusual (laughs) and that’s what I begin with, I’m gathering him into myself, purely for the intention of exploring (chuckle) these dark and terrible things, but I don’t think so.

Q: Was it ever awkward or difficult working with Rebecca, your wife? Were there ever times when she’d say “c’mon honey, one more take?”

DDL: I don’t think she ever used the word ‘honey’ on the set! (laughs) No. It was outrageously easy.

CK: It was fantastic. Rebecca was extremely fluid for everyone. Everyone was sort of in the same place, and that had a lot to do with the environment.

Q: Rebecca said the idea for the script had to do in part with fear of a loved one dying. Her father passed away this year, and you were also very close to Mr. Miller. Did he pass away during the making of the movie?

DDL: No. He was very much alive when we made that film. He was swimming in the sea in the film.

Q: We asked Rebecca if there was one idea you could come away with from this story, and she said that love is complicated. Is there something you want viewers to come away with from this story?

DDL: Perhaps if they were to have some animated conversation about the story! Most people would just leave the film, go home and go to bed… For the most part in film, judgments are made for you. But Rebecca refuses to pass judgment on any of the people, and that’s the way it should be.

CK: I see this movie kind of through Camilla’s face, how she seems to be perceiving everything that’s happening to her. That’s the sort of impression I have from the film. Things happen that are very unsettling for her. But she walks away with this sense of beauty that was given to her by her father.

Q: It’s a happy ending.

DDL: It’s a hopeful ending, not necessarily a happy one.

Q: And what about Kathleen?

CK: That’s not a happy ending (laughs). She wants what everybody wants. She believes in love, and that maybe it’s still not out of her reach.

Q: Were there scenes that were difficult to shoot?

CK: Um, all of them! Yeah, they were difficult, there aren’t comedy tears, even though there’s supposed to be. No, they were all joyous to work out, but they were hard.

Q: Have you watched the film with an audience?

DDL: We had a screening at Woodstock, last weekend. I’d always been looking forward to that, and it was lovely, very warm, a good experience.

Q: What was it like working with the rest of the young cast?

CK: They were an inspiration, fun to be around, really hard workers.

DDL: Each one of them is so rich, they’re not branded yet.

Q: You’re not branded either.

DDL: You discover these people in the story… the cycle of hope is coming to end, the urgency for the commune, this unachievable hope for future, but it seems to me, you see these young people dedicated to what they’re doing, love what they’re doing, and it makes you feel good.

Q: Do they remind you of yourself at their age?

DDL: I don’t think I had anything like the same kind of self-possession they have, which isn’t to say that they are probably beset by doubt, which they keep to themselves. I was probably more shambolic at their age.

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