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My Life Without Me - Isobel Coixet Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

Q. What sort of intensity exists when you're making a film like this? How much intensity is it necessary to have?
A.
I have to say, it was a very fun shoot. I feel very glad to have worked with these people - Sarah, Mark, Scott, Amanda, Deborah - and I think we were on the same path, on the same wave, but it was a fun shoot. We were having fun... all these actors really loved their characters, and they really loved the story, but there were some kind of sad moments, when Sarah was in the car, alone, recording the tapes for her daughters. I remember watching her, when she had the picture of the babies, her two daughters, and I remember thinking you were going to be more lonely than this woman there. But, as for intensity, I don't know.

Q. What then was the inspiration for the story, and the film?
A.
The film is based on a short story called Pretending The Bed Is a Raft, by an American writer, and I read the story five years ago and really like it. I thought there was something there that was always calling me. At the same time, the film is really different from the story, because in the film, she's not telling anyone she is going to die, whereas in the short story, she is telling everybody.
I thought with a classical story, like the story of My Life Without Me, it's a new kind of view; it is really a different type of story if she keeps the secret.

Q. And crucial to cast the right actress in the lead?
A.
I work with two casting directors, who were very good friends of mind, and this was the second time I had worked with them - we did another film together, called Things I Never Told You, with Lili Taylor, and I remember we watched every single actress, from 18 to 28. I watched very good people, very good actresses, who were very well known, and some who were completely unknown, and there was something lacking, something crucial, something was not there. And Heidi, who was from Toronto, and she told me, 'what about Sarah Polley'? And I remembered her from, of course, The Sweet Hereafter, which is a magnificent movie and she found an amazing way to play that character, but she was 15 then. So I thought, ok, how old is she now?
And we sent her the script, and spoke on the phone, and then we met in New York, in the lobby of a hotel, and there she was, I don't know, it was like having her in front of me, something told me she was the right one, she was perfect, and I was right. I don't believe in God, but I think she was a gift from something, or someone.

Q. It's an odd mix of emotions at the end of the film, isn't it, for the viewer, because you're not expecting to feel quite so upbeat?
A.
I'm actually obsessed about death, but in a very uplifting way. I don't have any kind of morbid obsession, but I just want to be in my death bed thinking I tried to be alive. And I'm really obsessed about what is being alive.
I look at certain things, such as the rain, which is a flood, and we hate it, because it's cold after the rain, and try to see them another way, because there is always a different way to look at things. Rain could be something magic, even if that sounds kind of corny.

Q. Did you perhaps draw up a list of things to achieve before you die, onset, to sort of get into the character?
A.
Maybe very simple things, like going to my daughter to Hawaii, because she is obsessed about it, and little things like that, I guess. But I don't really know. Never, anything about false nails, or my hair, because there is nothing you can do!

Q. Is there something in this subject matter that appeals especially to the Canadian sensibility?
A.
Well, I'm from Barcelona, so I don't know what I can tell you...

Q. But why choose that as a setting?
A.
Every time I say it, it sounds fabricated, but the thing is, I was doing a commercial in Vancouver, for a Japanese company, with Kate Beckinsale, and I spent one month there, and some guy from the production company, while we were talking about the story of My Life Without Me and its requirements of people living in trailers, etc, he said, 'oh, well, I know what you need!'. And he took me to Barnaby, which is a neighbourhood 25 miles from Vancouver, and within one square mile we had everything. So I took dozens of pictures and when I got back to Spain, I showed Pedro Almodovar the pictures and the script and he said, 'yeah, that was the perfect place to make the film'.

Q. Had the film been of a certain budget being made within the Canadian industry, is it fair to assume that there would have been pressures placed upon you to have those sort of cliched elements?
A.
Well, I have to say, the film was produced by Pedro's company, and I never had any kind of pressure, nothing. It was like an easy road, and Pedro was always very respectful - he always said, you know, this is your film, and maybe I wouldn't make exactly these choices, but this is your film. And I have to say, once he watched the film finished, he was the first person to say, 'you were right, this is a wonderful film and I'm grateful you did it'. And I'm very grateful to him, because there are very few producers who are not agreeing with their directors, who would say this is your film.

Q. I imagine when you were making this, he hadn't yet won the Oscar, but that can't hurt now - having an Oscar-winning producer getting behind you?
A.
This Oscar thing, you know, for me, I was 15, and I had a picture of Pedro in my room. I've been a big fan of his films from the beginning, even his short films, so, for me, he's a genius and no matter what those Academy members said...
The thing is, when someone like him is telling you things, you're not saying to yourself, 'what does he know?' This man knows what he is saying, so it can be hard and it can be tough, but it's good, too. It's much better having him, than having one of those studio guys.

Q. How did you come to cast Deborah Harry?
A.
I have to say that when Heidi and Monica, the casting directors, told me that Deborah Harry is calling because she really liked the script and she wants to read for you, I was very, like, I don't know, sceptical, because I had watched her films before. I thought she was good, but for this role, I was like, ok, we can sing together, but, you know...
And then she came, with no make-up, secondhand clothes, and her hair a mess, and she did an amazing reading. I've seen a lot of actors before, for the same role, but the way she was expressing herself was basically what was in my mind, so she got the role.
I was very sceptical, but she was just great. She's a very innocent person, genuinely.

Q. It did seem like you had to act around them, because they were being kids, and yet they were still in character? Was that a difficult balance, ensuring, as well, that they didn't become too precocious?
A.
The small one, she never quite realised we were doing a movie. I think she thought we were a sort of new day-care type of school, or something. They were really happy to be onset. They were enjoying themselves. I'm not a very maternal person, but I think Sarah has a sort of motherly thing going on with everybody, so that helps.

Q. How many kids did you audition for the roles? Obviously you had to find two who could play sisters?
A.
We auditioned a lot. But, at the same time, I wanted normal kids - not overly professional. And I have to say, the younger one has made some commercials, but they were very good together, from the beginning, and Jessica was always protecting Kenya Jo... And they were so sad, the last day of filming.

Q. We've known your work from The Sweet Hereafter and other stuff, but Mark Ruffalo and Scott Speedman we've only really discovered much more recently. What was it about their work that made you cast them here?
A.
I never watched Felicity, which was the only thing Scott had done before, so for me, he was just a guy who came to the audition. He was just the perfect guy to make his role.
And Mark, I thought he was perfect too. I met Mark a while back, he was in audition for the other film I did, Things I Never Told You, but I didn't cast him, because he was too young for the part. But I really like him. He was someone who was in my mind, and I think he is an amazing actor. I think he has only eight or nine scenes in this movie, but he is there, and we needed someone who you really can't forget.

Q. Was it always obvious which roles these men should play?
A.
No.

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