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Surveillance - Julia Ormond interview

Julia Ormond in Surveillance

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JULIA Ormond made a name for herself in films such as First Knight, alongside Richard Gere, and Sabrina, with Harrison Ford. But then she fell away from the spotlight for a while.

She’s made a strong comeback recently though, starring alongside Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and now Jennifer Lynch’s serial killer movie Surveillance. She talks about the experiences of both, why Brad’s a great guy and why Hollywood and cinema-goers continue to be so fascinated with serial killers…

Q. I would imagine that one of the first things that appealed about the script for Surveillance is that it contains such a provocative ending?
Julia Ormond: What I liked about it was that it kept throwing me as a script, both tonally and story wise, and that I knew that this was a film I’d love to see but not the usual fare that I’m cast in; so I begged for the part. I also loved that Jen [Lynch] was directing it as I believe that a woman doing such a dark, wicked and provocative piece was new to me and risky, and while I’d never want to be presumptive of anyone’s opinion of the outcome, to me that meant going in, in all the right ways.

Q. How did you enjoy forming a relationship with Bill Pullman? You share an intriguing chemistry…
Julia Ormond: I adored him… What a great guy and great leading man spirit he is on a set – very warm and open, smart and funny, generous and courageous. Not every lead actor uses their status to be encouraging and embracing of others, but he does. And I love what he did with this role, he surprised me; I kept looking at him in the make-up trailer trying to work out who he reminded me of, and then it finally dawned on me – it was Bill Pullman. We had a laugh together.

Q. Being a veteran of David Lynch’s films along with Bill, did that make it easier to get into the whole Lynch mindset? And how does Jennifer Chambers differ in terms of style and being on set?
Julia Ormond: They’re both different, and run sets in different ways because that’s a deeply personal and individual thing; and they’re both unstinting in their respect of others which I would assume is simply (but often demanding on a director) a shared inherited value. David likes to meditate to get into a flow, Jen’s a sexy firecracker who gets euphoric in the process, and in utter joy cracks hilarious dirty jokes, that I wonder if any man would really get away with on a set, even David Lynch!

Both are compassionate, centred souls, sharing a vibrant sense of play and fun. I think the strongest link or artistic influence that from the outside I saw was passionate commitment to one’s own idiosyncratic voice, and all of that bleeds into both of their films with raw courage and lack of self-censorship; that’s a cauldron to create work that is provocative and vulnerable simultaneously. It’s way more challenging, interesting and engaging to work on a piece with someone at the helm devoted to the process and constantly striving for the best from people, while being uncompromising story-wise, despite any possible apprehension of how it may be received by an audience. If we work to please an audience, ultimately we’re all more likely to deliver insipid work. Was that the sound-bite you were looking for? Sorry!

Q. Child actress Ryan Simpkins gives a strong performance as Stephanie and has to deal with some pretty tough stuff. How did you go about building a rapport with her? And how much was she shielded from the content?
Julia Ormond: She’s a bright and sassy girl while having a beautiful and natural aura of innocence and ability to let that shine, which is crucial to the part without ever letting it get cute. And as is often the case with the kids I’ve worked with, alarmingly professional. I always make a point of telling kids that anything that makes them feel unsafe or concerned they should just speak up about, and then keep an eye on times when that could present an issue. I get very protective of kids on set. And that was everyone… not just me with her.

I guess just hanging out, playing. My little one was there for a bit and we all spent time together off-set with her and her family, from visiting other neighbours and their puppies to reading books in bed. There is pretty tough stuff, but I trusted her Mom and Jen who’re both fabulous to not be transgress of what was age-appropriate for her. I would say this though; there’s a world of difference from being inside or behind the scenes of how a film is made and just being exposed to a final X-rated movie. Kids have enormous capacity for blood and guts within the world of make believe and play. I’d say that kids working on sets, even if it’s Bambi, need to be allowed to be kids, even if they’re working, not become little adults – that to me can be distorting to kids as an experience.

Q. Why do you think people are so fascinated by serial killers in film and on TV?
Julia Ormond: Sex, love and death are universal and timeless dramatic themes. Surveillance reminds me tonally of Reservoir Dogs at times, only with more heart. Something about a serial killer or killers seems so threatening because it’s detached from other life, and in this it’s shown in the context of virtually everyone being disconnected in some way except the child, who through connection sees everything.

Q. You’ve also been seen on-screen recently in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, alongside Cate Blanchett? It’s another great movie. What was the experience of shooting that like?
Julia Ormond: Awesome. David was a total dream to work with and Cate is I think probably my generation’s finest actress. I know I watch her work and with ease step back from enviously wishing I was doing that role and into “I don’t think I could do that”. It was such a gift because my section of the film was isolated and shot in two weeks, so was like having Fincher direct me with Cate in our own little short film.

Q. Did you get to hang out with Brad Pitt at all? Had you stayed in touch since Legends of the Fall?
Julia Ormond: I never shot stuff with Brad. We’ve seen each other infrequently over the years and I just feel he never changes; one of the sweetest most decent people I know in Hollywood . Even in the throng of attention we witnessed him go through with Benjamin Button, he’s like the eye of a storm, always kind of caring for others in each encounter.

Q. And you were also in Steven Soderbergh’s Che Part One. How was working with Steven? You seem to be working with some really interesting filmmakers at present…
Julia Ormond: Yes, I’ve had an amazing time working with some stunning directors and certainly Steven’s way up there. He’s so competent at each aspect of film – he’s his own cinematographer and cameraman and keeps everyone completely on their toes while never letting perfection be the enemy of the good, in fact finding a deeper reality in capturing stuff seconds before anyone feels completely ready for it. He understands that when creative folks feel confident about their work, often something’s actually died and an element of truth lost.

Q. Everyone is talking about how strong American TV is at the moment and you’ve also had a recurring role in CSI: NY. How did that come about and can we expect to see you in more American TV?
Julia Ormond: The quality of US TV is very high, especially writing and roles for women.

Read our review of Surveillance