This father of two is a man who has a lot to say about mothers. Rodrigo Garcia's new film, Mother and Child, released two days just before Mother's Day, tells the story of three controlling women who are affected by the responsibility of motherhood in positive and negative ways. This limited release movie does not show so much the "Child" as it does the "Mother," and it explores a woman's maternal importance in unique ways. Allen's review of Mother and Child
I sat down with Mr. Garcia at The Peninsula hotel in Chicago to discuss the influences behind his unique story, and also to figure out what research he undertook in order to bring these three extraordinary yet fictional women to life (played by Annette Bening, Kerry Washington, and Naomi Watts).
(There are spoilers in this interview.) What was your mother like, and was she a direct influence on the story?
She’s a very gregarious person, very interested in people and their lives. She has a strong personality but she can also be swayed … she’s understanding. There must be some of her in the movie just like there is some of me and my father and my brother, but I don’t see the roots of her in the film.
Do you personally know any women have gone through the situation that the three women in the film experience?
I have known people and I’ve been the kind of person who has wanted something very desperately, who is sometimes in their own way. Or, someone who lashes out at the wrong person. Mostly what these three women want to do is control their environment. That’s how I saw them in three different ways. Elizabeth controls with her talent, her smarts, her beauty, her sex. She literally throws tentacles out there and controls. I think Karen controls by shutting off the world. I know people, and I am one of those controllers. But it often comes from lack of control.
Even with her detached situation, Annette Bening's character Karen talks about how she still celebrates her daughter's birthday.
Yes, that’s something I read multiple counts of. People who have named a child, celebrated a birthday. And I have friends who have been adopted, and happily adopted. But on their own birthday, they think, “I wonder if they’re thinking of me today?”
Do you have any close relatives who have been adopted?
No, but I have close friends who have adopted and been adopted themselves. By and large much happier stories than this one of course.
Was this the original concept of the film?
Originally it was just Karen and Elizabeth. But that became a little monotonous, just bouncing back and forth. I didn’t want the idea of them just moving towards each other, I wanted it to be a little more complicated.
The movie doesn't feature many scenes of physically raising children. What was your decision to bump the childhood process?
Well, you only use what you think you need. And what you only need is the scene where Lucy is trying to put the baby to sleep. I think it was useful to me because it was about Lucy. I came to understand through Kerry’s performance that Lucy was a perfectionist who saw her inability to get pregnant as a personal failure. She set this goal for herself that “My life will be perfect if …” and then the reality hits of what it’s like to have a baby at three in the morning. And she’s cracking.
So you do believe that Lucy (Washington) loves that baby, even if it's not her own, and even if she is "cracking" in that scene.
That scene – I’ve been that person. I have biological children, I’ve been that person at 4 AM, and you’re not loving anyone at that hour. And you’re literally thinking, “I have ruined my life.” It’s all lack of sleep. It’s so incredibly elementary. There is no psychology behind it. The lack of sleep drives you nuts. And because we’re programmed that the baby screaming sound is unbearable, so you tend to it.
So parenting is mostly about getting enough sleep?
At the beginning, if you meet someone that has a little baby, the first thing you [should] ask them is “Does your baby sleep?” It’s two lives. Your baby sleeps, your baby doesn’t sleep.
Let's talk about performances. Did you coach your actors a lot?
No, the scenes were just set up in general descriptions. It’s not the kind of thing you rehearse … and off [they] go. There she goes.
How much time did you take in-between shooting Kerry Washington's outburst towards the third act of the film?
As little time as possible. It’s easier for her if you go quick. So probably from the first time we rolled, until the last time we rolled, I can’t imagine it was more than twenty-five minutes. … You try to do as few as possible. Sometimes the scene requires a change in the make-up, especially if there is crying. But you don’t want the actors to get cold. It’s hard to rev-up that kind of emotion several times.
Samuel L. Jackson is in the film, and is noticeably gray in the film, but he seems very comfortable with it.
A lot of women audience members have found him very attractive as a realistic, almost “nerdy sexy” version of Sam. He’s so good at playing those big masculine larger-than-life than he can do beautifully without overacting, he can own that bigness. He really liked this, and committed over night. I think he’s a very good romantic lead.
Overall, are you an optimist or a pessimist?
I am a pessimist who is working on becoming an optimist. I begin optimistically pessimistic. That’s hard to say. I’m a pessimist, but I want to believe I’m wrong.
There's a lot down moments in this movie, but it's all realistic.
You don’t do the movie with an agenda, but you want to try to reflect something that hopefully comes across as truthful. I wanted an ending that reflected what I had learned and researched, and that is that nobody involved in this can foresee what a reunion will be like, or IF there will be a reunion. I wanted an ending that was unforeseen, not a surprise ending, not only for the audience, but for every character in the movie. Because I have learned from a lot of these stories. … Life is infinitely more imaginative than anything you could cook up. A woman came up to me after a screening in Connecticut and said that she had looked for mother a long time, and her biological family had once lived across the street from her.
Do you know of anyone who has done an adoption like Lucy’s where it was done by chance?
The script is built on the old closed adoption system. The point of departure is Karen being forced to give up her baby thirty-something years ago, back when adoptions were closed and there was shame surrounding teenage pregnancy. The movie is not a primer on adoption in that sense. But to answer your question, when I was reading accounts, interviews, and memoirs about this, it’s amazing the amount of flukes, accidents, near misses. It talks to fate and chance. I know you read about someone going to an orphanage in Africa. You immediately think, well, “This baby, and not THIS baby. This destiny and THIS destiny.” The role of destiny seems to be hovering over these stories, not the stories in the movie, but the stories of people who go through things like this. So I don’t know anyone who went through what Lucy went through but I did read a lot about things that were going to be one way and were another way.
Do you think luck has a large part in your life?
It depends who you are. I think it’s one of the issues that hovers over the movie also – luck, chance, timing. Is someone calling the shots, is there a God saying what’s what? And maybe there is no God, and this is just a human making his or her own choices. Lucy says it’s a combination of luck and will, a roll of the die. I certainly have no good answer, but there’s a lot of luck involved in anything.
Are you a religious person yourself?
Interesting. You mention how the nun could be an agent for a higher being, but in the movie it seems like she is at the center of everything.
I connected with her as a normal person. Without giving away anything, the movie hinted that she might have made a very human, personal choice. But it’s clear that she is her own person and makes some choices that may or may not be what she is supposed to make.
Did you talk to anyone like the nun when you were shooting the movie?
I do remember reading for example about a woman showing up at the agency and being informed that it was a closed adoption, and that they could do nothing for her. She of course could leave a letter in the file, but it may never be answered. I read more than one of these – and someone at the agency had taken pity on them, and had leaked the name of the name of the mother to the woman.
Did you ever consider doing that for the story?
Its arguable that there’s something like that, when the nun says to Lucy, “There’s a baby available.” It’s possible. Of course, you can argue that doesn’t come from a bad place. A woman told me that she met with a worker across a table like we’re sitting, and this person had the biological mother’s name in front of her, and she said, “I can not tell you this name, because it’s a closed adoption.” The woman would say, “Right there in front of you, you have my own mother’s name. My own identity; it’s right there, and you will not give it to me.”
Do you know why the adoption agencies can't reveal the name?
It was thought of as the best way. I think, I presume, that shame is at the heart of it. You don’t want to be traced back to be the adolescent pregnant girl, since girls were sent away, etc. By all accounts, now adoptees have the resource to track. Sometimes if its not known the biological parents, there are legal ways to find out, however difficult or traumatic that experience is like. It seems from a lot of experience now that it’s better to know or to move on, than to have that ghost that creates emptiness. Quick Questions with Rodrigo Garcia Favorite fruit? I’m a big fruit fanatic, but mangoes.
What did you have for breakfast? Three small buttermilk pancakes. The short order.
If you could be someone for 24 hours? I would be myself at age 11.
Why age 11? Not too much of a kid, not too much adolescence. Age of first kiss? I can’t remember. Maybe 12, 13.