Compiled by: Jack Foley
AN AWARD-winning tale of loyalty, friendship and the misleading
nature of first appearances, The
Station Agent is written and directed by Tom McCarthy, who
recently received the BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay.
Originally an actor - he appeared in such films as The
Guru and Meet The Parents
- the film marks his debut behind the camera.
Tom McCarthy (writer-director)
Q. When you were shooting The Station Agent did you imagine
it would travel all over the world?
A. I don't think The Station Agent could have had a smaller
ambition to start with: I simply wanted to complete my first screenplay.
Once I completed it, the goal was to try to make it and try to
direct it. Even that was less about ambition and more about academic
I literally thought it would be wonderful to have that experience,
to help me in my approach to film acting. So it really began there,
and every step has been a really wonderful surprise."
Q. The real strength of the film is that is doesn't conform
to expectations, which must surely be really difficult to write?
A. I've seen many movies where I think writers and/or directors
are purposely trying to shock the audience.
It's like 'oh you never thought we'd turn left here but we are',
and 'you never thought we would push it this far, but we're going
to'. To me that's just as bad as falling into a formula. How I
approached it was just letting Fin's character and his experience
play out in as natural and organic a way as possible.
So I was never really trying in any way to force the action. Rather
like Fin I wasn't in a rush to get anywhere, I just wanted to
go along on the journey.
Q. Was the character of Fin originally supposed to be a dwarf?
A. Not at all. I think there's a difference between writing
for a character and acknowledging who that character is, in terms
of race or height or sexuality or whatever it might be.
But then the idea is not to let whatever trait that is define
that character, or stereotype them.
Like 'he's the black kid from the ghetto', 'or the prostitute
with a heart of gold', that becomes very clichéd very quickly.
With Pete, we do acknowledge his dwarfism very quickly, but it's
not his defining characteristic. He's a multi-dimensional character,
and you can't ignore it. What we really set out to do was to not
sentimentalise that fact, and not let it define either the character
or the story.
Q. Of course, it doesn't matter how tall Peter Dinklage is,
he's obviously a very fine actor?
A. People constantly say what a great thing I've done for
Pete here, but that's bull. I have a lot of friends who are actors,
both good and bad, and I would never have put this guy in my film
if he wasn't a great actor. The first thing I considered when
I thought of him was how he'd connect to the material.
Then I asked myself if he could do it, does he have the acting
chops? I had to think about it for about 30 seconds, because it
was a given. And I wouldn't say that about everybody I know as
It's not an easy job, but I knew Pete has it. He's confident,
he has a wonderful work ethic and he can do this. I think he gave
such a beautifully nuanced performance.
Q. Do you see a lot of him in Fin?
A. Actually he's nothing like the character. Pete's so charming
and funny, he's much more outgoing and ironic. He's got a wicked
wit and we had to strip him of a lot of that.
The character of Fin is not armed with irony or sarcasm - it's
just not in his repertoire, but Pete can say so much with just
a look. We had to really contain his sense of humour for this.
Q. But the strength of the film is that it's not a one-man
show, isn't it?
A. As an actor, I know that you're only as good as the people
you're acting with, and no one character can carry the film.
For me, it was always going to be an ensemble movie. This was
a perfect example of actors playing off each other and sharing
a scene, knowing when to hold the ball and when to run with it.
I think they all do that beautifully.
Q. Patricia Clarkson seems to be at the height of her powers
right now, especially in light her recent Oscar nomination. What
was it that made you cast her?
A. Patty is someone I didn't know, though I had met her a
couple of times in New York. But I was a huge fan of her work.
I was writing this character and she came to mind and I thought
'absolutely, she has to do this'.
I could hear her voice, and I knew I wanted Olivia to be from
this sort of WASPy, upper middle class New Jersey world that I
knew growing up.
Physically, Petty represented that to me, but emotionally, she
brought so much more to the character. She brought a real complexity
and depth to the character, a rawness and yet it was quite grounded
Q. She plays the role with incredible subtlety, doesn't she?
A. I remember, at one point, one of my producers - who shall
remain nameless - said to me, 'I don't think she's really trying
that hard'. But Patty doesn't know 'not trying', she bleeds acting.
What is true, is when you watch her film a scene you might not
be sure it's all there, but then you get in the editing room and
you realise what a subtle and seasoned film actress she is.
Q. The film was made incredibly quickly in 20 days, but the
remarkable thing is that it doesn't show on screen...
A. We just stuck to the script and the tempo that gave us.
People ask me if I wish I had acted in the film too. My first
answer is 'of course I do, now it's a big hit and these guys are
all getting big jobs'. I'd be lying if I said otherwise.
But there's just no way I could have been, because as a first-timer,
I was a frantic mess. You're juggling a hundred things, on a very
small budget, and in a very small amount of time.
I couldn't imagine suddenly getting in front of the camera, I
would have been a vibrating blur. It just wouldn't have worked.
What these actors did was they arrived at this place in New Jersey,
and they stayed in that world.