I read the script for We Don’t Live Here Anymore
on a Friday in late 2002 and instantly had a sense I was going to make
the film, or wanted to make the film. Or something. Over the weekend
I tracked down the source material it was adapted from—three stunning
short stories by Andre Dubus—and on Monday was sitting with the
producer and screenwriter, Larry Gross. Both Larry and I talk very quickly
and tend to interrupt a lot, so I’m not sure who was selling who
on what, but the meeting was going well. Finding a great script is like
striking gold after years of prospecting and my secret hope was that
nobody else had discovered this gem yet, so I asked if they’d
sent it to any other directors or studios. That’s when Larry told
me he’d written it in the seventies with Dustin Hoffman ‘interested’
in playing Jack (Jack’s 35) and yes they’d shopped it around,
but not to worry because the studio people who’d read it were
probably dead by now. Part of me just wanted to get up and leave (who’d
buy a script that was thirty years old?) but the other more desperate
parts were so enamored with the timelessness of Dubus’ insights
into marriage and infidelity and so blown away by Larry’s inspired
adaptation that my blurted response was "Let’s call Dustin!
Maybe he still wants to do it!"
Though the story of two couples unfolds evenly from four perspectives,
Larry and I agreed that the soul of the film was Jack’s, a guy
you want to pull for even though he’s making some really bad choices.
To be honest the only actor I could ever picture playing him was Mark
Ruffalo. As luck or fate would have it I was in Sydney the next week
shooting a commercial and I ran into Jane Campion, who was in the final
stages of editing In the Cut starring Mark.
I didn’t know Jane well, but we’d worked with the same editor
and DP so we have a sort of familial bond. When I told her about this
script and my desire to get it to Mark, she literally called him on
the spot and urged him to read it. Jumping ahead, a month later I’m
sitting with Mark in a coffee shop in L.A. and he’s telling me
he wants to do it. Thank you Jane Campion.
I moved to Sydney from New York in the mid-eighties and didn’t
move back until 2000. (Anyone who asks why I stayed so long never lived
in Sydney.) Anyway, that’s where I met Naomi Watts. I sent her
the script and she passed but I hounded her by phone to reconsider.
It was February and she was in Memphis shooting 21
Grams and totally exhausted, and I think she finally agreed to
play Edith just to shut me up. By the time Laura Dern and Peter Krause
came on board and the contracts and financing were sorted out it was
March and we had only a few weeks to prep the film in order to hit an
April window of availability for the actors.
Late March, 2003: I’m in a Vancouver cab on the way to the production
office moaning to the driver about what a disaster this shoot is going
to be due to lack of prep and no rehearsals. He reminds me that my President
is mounting a war in less time, and bets me that by the time I finish
shooting at the end of April, America will have declared victory. He
also claims the SARS virus is payback from the CIA for Canada’s
condemnation of the pending invasion, and for proof adds ‘my sources
tell me this is true.’
At Sundance it was a huge relief to sell the film, and on the last
night of the festival I ran into a respected film critic. He was too
cagey to give away what he thought of We Don’t
Live Here Anymore and I wasn’t about to ask, but what he
did say was that he showed my first film to Pauline Kael and she really
enjoyed it. For me this tiny exchange remains one of the highlights
of the festival.
So I guess, after all is said and done, that’s what everything
comes down to for a filmmaker: A little pat on the back that makes you
smile. Sadly, Pauline Kael has passed away and we’ve yet to find
any physical evidence linking her to the actual watching of my first
film, but my sources tell me this is true.