Julian Farino, director of comedy-drama The Oranges, chats with View about directing a tremendous cast of actors, the way a fine script has to be pursued and carefully crafted, how great an actor Britain’s own Hugh Laurie is, and how relationships are at the heart of all great films. This interview contains spoilers about the plot of The Oranges.
How did The Oranges come about, first of all?
How’d the movie come about? Traditional American way. I’d read the script when it first came out and I really liked it, so I pitched very hard for it and got the job. And then it becomes the real work, trying to get it made. We went through a year and a half of grind to get the money together and the casting was easy, actually, but it’s always hard, looking to pre-sell a movie. It took a year before the money came together, but you’ve just got to keep grinding away and never say no. That’s how it seems to be.
What was it that appealed to you about the script?
When I first read the script, I thought the script had a surprising quality, it has a tricky premise that is ostensibly what Americans call dark, I never actually thought it was dark. In fact it isn’t dark, the movie is warm and funny and everything else. It’s just a spirit thing. When I read it I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. I think it defied the easy categorization, so I’m like, ‘Oh, okay, this definitely needs realization’.
I read quite a lot of scripts in Hollywood and you feel like you’ve shot them before you’ve finished reading them, but this had some sort of journey, like what that balance was between comedy and emotional fallout. How much pathos and how broad to be on the comedy and could it hit the sweet spot that could marry both... that’s what always gets me going. It’s then you’ve got a journey ahead and you’ve got something to try and pull off. I always go for those tricky ones, I can’t help myself!
You had a fantastic cast, obviously, so can you talk about the casting process?
Yeah, the casting process was pretty good. Pretty painless. The script had a lot of love in Hollywood as a Black List script [an annual list of the best as-yet-unmade scripts in Hollywood] as you probably know, and so a lot of agents were happy to put their clients up for it and there was buzz. And so I had a good freedom in choosing. I was never scraping around at all. The main thing to me was the delicacy of casting the central relationship, the older man, younger woman, who became Hugh and Leighton, because if that wasn’t right, there’s no movie and the trick of the movie is that you’re not sitting in judgement of them in the way that you might expect. One, they have to have chemistry and two, they had to be likeable despite everything, because there’s a sort of selfishness to what they’re doing and you had to somehow transcend that.
And so the whole thing started for me with Hugh Laurie. I’d hung my hat on casting Hugh from the beginning, because I thought he has that innate decency that could carry this thing. You know, I had phone calls from, like, Richard Gere’s agent saying, ‘My guy loves your movie’, this, that and the other and I was like, however big I could go or however glamorous I could go, I’m sticking with Hugh for that editorial reason. It would have imbalanced the movie, anyway. It was that if you felt for any moment like that character was predatory with the younger girl or just wanted to, you know, shag her when he first sees her as he thinks she’s really hot and he was having that sort of midlife crisis, there’s no story, the story doesn’t hold together. So Hugh became the centre. I pursued Hugh at the beginning, like thinking this is a must-have and Hugh was great. I mean, I met him and he agreed to do the movie once we’d talked it out, and it was more then a practical thing of getting the money at the same time as getting his window in filming House for TV, so that was that.
The rest of the cast filled out really in my pretty dream way. I got Keener early on and Keener’s a tremendous talent magnet and all actors love her. If you get her it’s a sort of mark of credibility and people are more likely to want to come and meet you and be in your movie if Keener’s in it and it’s a really interesting thing as she’s like that doyenne of American independent movies. And then, for me, it was just my dream cast.
Oliver Platt and Alison Janney I love them to pieces and they’ve got that likeability, you know, there’s that nice spirit in there. And this movie for me was like there’s got to be this purity of spirit. Everybody should be likeable. You know, people are dealing with big problems, but in a very un-thought-through, unbrooding, not dark sort of way, so it had to be sort of alive and present tense. And I think they’re two brilliant actors who can do both comedy and straight and that was where I was looking.
And Alia Shawkat?
Alia I loved from the moment I met her. I mean, I didn’t really know Alia as an actress. I’d seen a bit of Arrested Development, but her individuality was what appealed to me. She is quite quirky, Alia, she’s a little offbeat, and I really wanted that, for me I loved it, I felt it was a story about an underdog, you know, and that may be the Brit in me or something, but when we talk about Leighton Meester’s character, Nina, she has what I used to call it the privilege of beauty. She’s always found life easy because she’s great looking and she’s always going to have people falling over her or whatever. And Alia’s character for me was going to be the opposite.
She was locked away without those benefits that humanity confers on the beautiful. And I think she is beautiful in her own way, Alia, it wasn’t that, but it wasn’t that easy and so that contrast is there; she was smart as well, that’s another thing about the characters. Leighton’s character, everything’s impulse, she acts before she thinks and it’s all going to be good. And Alia’s character’s the opposite. She’s rather choked by her thinking, she’s made inert by her thinking and because Alia’s a very smart girl as well, that is what fitted the bill. She was actually the first name the casting director ever mentioned for that character, and I met a ton of actresses around Hollywood for it.