Business of Strangers is truly empowering for women, yet, you are a male. How does a man write a feminist film? ^ Well, first of all, the film is not a feminist film, I’m not really sure what that means, but I’m not propagating any socio-political ideology or agenda, these characters are not stand-ins for all ‘womankind’, it’s a personal film about these individuals and their choices they make. My guiding interest was to explore complex but yet strong characters. Furthermore, I don’t think the issues that these characters confront are exclusive to women – issues of power and doubt – are issues we all deal with.
Julia Stiles is amazing in the film, how did you draw such an explosive performance out of her? ^ Julia and I really shared the same vision of who Paula was, I think growing up she knew a number of young women like this, she sympathized with the character, and her choices as an actress were always firmly grounded in reality, never frivolous or untrue. Also, she played Paula’s lies as if they were a truth, that’s very important, because ultimately, in a very disturbing way, Paula really believes the stories she fabricates.
What attracted the actors to the subject? ^ You would have to ask them that. I think it was the script, the dialogue and the strength of the characters. Also, it was a quick shoot, 23 days, that kind of appealed to them.
Stockard Channing was an inspired casting choice and she shines in her part. Can you tell us about working with Ms. Channing? ^ Working with Stockard was a real pleasure. She enjoyed the part, I think there were people she knew in the film industry that reminded her of this character and ultimately she felt it was an important story to be told.
Business of Strangers takes many bizarre twists and turns, can you describe the writing process for the film? ^ I had a rough notion of wanting to write a low budget film that was contained, with strong characters, and that was surprising. I initially wrote a first draft that was somewhat obvious, then I started removing all the conventional elements, dug deeper into character’s psyches and looked for ways to add the rough edges. I didn’t want a script where you sensed the screenwriter’s hand; I really wanted it to be loose and character based.
There seemed to be an unconsummated lesbian attraction with the two leads, did earlier drafts take this further and tell us about the lesbian subtext? ^ The Paula character is what I call polysexual, she refuses to be defined by any sexual preference, and she uses her sexual freedom to make the Julie character feel uncomfortable. Beyond that it’s nothing more than a power play; there’s no real reciprocal lesbian attraction, it’s just Paula playing mind games.
Business of Strangers has been a hit at film festivals with audiences, tell us about your whirlwind film festival tour. ^ I enjoy festivals, I like talking to audiences, those conversations can be fascinating, and everyone has a different take on your film. Also, there’s usually there’s lots of free food and liquor at festivals.
Clearly the issue of date rape is one you must feel very passionate about, can you tell us your personal views on the subject beyond what’s in the film? ^ I don’t feel more passionate about the issue of rape compared to most reasonable people, I recognize that date rapes happen more than we think, it’s wrong, and those that commit such an act should be incarcerated. Sadly, the horror of what happens to a victim is not confined to the moment of the act, but many times a whole lifetime.
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Posted on December 12, 2001 in Interviews by Chris Gore
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