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Elizabethtown - Cameron Crowe

Kirsten Dunst and Orlando Bloom in Elizabethtown

Interview by Rob Carnevale

Q. Why are there two different versions?
Crowe:
Just getting the rhythm of the movie took some time, just watching it with audiences and feeling the flow of it led me to the final cut.

Q. Is this your most personal and revealing film?
A:
It began as a tribute to my dad and was born out of a road trip that happened in Kentucky three summers ago. The characters took on a life of their own from there and they’re certainly fictional characters; the actors that played them made them they’re own. It grew from that very personal story of going back to Kentucky and coming face to face with a family that I was new to and felt really comforted by so I didn’t feel as alone as I thought I did. That was the jumping off point for what Elizabethtown is, which is basically a story that begins with an ending and ends with a beginning.

Q. Given the amount of scenes that take place in the kitchen, can we presume that food is something of a tradition at a Kentucky funeral?
A.
Yeah. I have no cooks in my immediate family. I was brought into the world that exists in the South and it was amazing to me that so much is communicated in the kitchen. It’s food as a context for life and I just thought that was a great way to thrust Orlando’s character into this phase of celebrating Mitch. Send him into a kitchen where life is exploding. My mum, who plays opposite Aunt Dora in the kitchen scene, is not a cook. It was like looking at this wondrous thing. But by the end of it, Paula Dean had taught her a little bit about that magic.

Q. Cameron, are you a romantic?
Crowe:
I like what Susan said, that you were listened to. That the thing that you said maybe disappeared into the ether but it was logged, noted and acted upon. It’s probably obvious from the movie, but I love it when you get a mix CD with the artwork on it and the songs are carefully chosen.

Q. Why did you initially cast Ashton Kutcher and what process led to you then cast Orlando?
A.
Orlando was actually my first choice but he was doing Pirates of the Caribbean and so wasn’t available. So I went on my journey and met up with a bunch of different actors and I thought Ashton brought a really nice stillness to the part of the character and worked on it for a while.
Ultimately, it wasn’t going to work and destiny was with Orlando, who was the first guy I sat down with and read the script out loud. He then became available when the movie got pushed back and it meant that I was also able to shoot the movie during the summer, which was nicer than shooting him arriving in Kentucky while it was snowing.
It always felt best with Orlando. I love his stranger in a strange land quality that he brings to arriving in Kentucky, looking around and being hit by this hurricane of love and feeling like he’s with family and feeling like a stranger in the place.

Q. What was the idea behind the road trip?
A.
The road trip is a little bit about a great disappointment that turns to a great victory later, a challenge that became a success. Claire sent him this journey with musical and visual inspiration to get in touch with who he is. What I like about those places is that they’re very personal and they’re a gift from a traveller who doesn’t travel.
Also, it was about hearing stories of people who have failed or in their time success never happened, but in fact their fiascos and disasters turned into triumphs that few people could have expected.

Q. Can you talk about your love of Tom Petty? He appears three times on this soundtrack and has featured in a couple of your films…
Crowe:
Tom Petty is one of the kings of the road trip mix. Song after song after song is just perfect. It’s like Kirsten says in the movie: “Roll down your window, some music just needs air”. That’s Petty. I wanted to use him in Vanilla Sky but his music just didn’t work at all in that movie. When we got to this movie, it just felt like we’d start with a lot of Tom Petty.

Q. Can you talk about the casting of Mitch, Drew’s late father, because he has to convey quite a bit without saying much. How did you choose Tim Devitt?
A:
He is a commercials director who decided that he wanted to try acting, so he came in and we tried him on a couple of speaking parts. Then we said, ‘try not speaking’. And it was, ‘Wow!’ So I called him back and it felt right: charismatic. Silent. I called him up and said, “Tim, I have a part for you in the movie.” He said, “That’s great, tell me about it.” And I was like, “Well, you’re going to lay around a lot.” I told him about the part and said that Kevin Costner in The Big Chill would be his role model. He was great and actually speaks to Orlando off-camera in a lot of those moments when Orlando is peering into the casket. Tim is saying odd things to him. So when Orlando is reeling back a little bit it’s probably because our silent master, Tim, is saying rude and strange things to him. Thanks for asking about him.