Ang Lee is fascinated by families - be it in Taipei ("The Wedding Banquet", "Eat Drink Man Woman") or in olde England ("Sense and Sensibility"). In "The Ice Storm", he sets his new variation on the family theme in New Canaan, Connecticut, in 1973. Remember the early '70s, when wife-swapping and chic hippy-ism were the trend? It will take an ice storm and a dramatic incident for Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver (the parents), Christina Ricci (an adolescent discovering sex and power), not to mention a brother or two, to come to terms with themselves, both individually and as a unit. -- HB
QUESTION: Was this a difficult movie to make?
ANG LEE: That question needs about 3 days to answer. It was difficult. One of the reasons why we made this movie... Right after "Sense and Sensibility," I got hooked on period pieces and this movie is just, I believe, a period piece. It became a period drama.
When I was in Taipei, I heard AM but not FM music. It was American. I knew what happened in the States from movies, from television from newspapers, from all media. Beside the fact the book this movie is based on has a universal theme, I got fascinated with this period drama. The fashion, the sideburns...
I also think it is the beginning of what we are today, which made it even more interesting to me.
QUESTION (to Ang Lee): How come you know so much about North-American family life of the early '70s?
SIGOURNEY WEAVER: I think that it comes perhaps from Ang not being American. (She turns to Ang Lee) When you say that something happened in '73 that has brought us to where we are today... (Back to the audience) We were just falling apart as a family. Maybe Ang was more able to see that, coming from another country.
To me, Elvis finally caught up to the middle-class by the early '70s -- finally caught up with them and everything started to unravel from the 50s and the post&emdash;war period. And that's something I've been able to see much better having been in the film. Being from outside America Ang could perhaps see it more clearly.
KEVIN KLINE: I think Ang is very sensitive to the human condition, whatever the period. As an actor, I found that specifity would transcend whatever consideration that particular period demanded - the clothes, the hairstyle, whatever. Relationships, family, those are themes I always find interesting - and universal: they're not particular to the '70s.
QUESTION (to Ang Lee): Hollywood always beckons foreign directors to "come to Hollywood". With one proviso: "You want to do action? Stay. You wanna go serious? Go home." How do you fit in that increasing uniformization of world-wide culture?
ANG LEE: Think of it as actors. Kevin (Kline) and Sigourney (Weaver), I believe they never swapped wives before, yet they do their job in the movie. Actors playing different parts. The same thing goes for for directors. I don't want to do the same movie over and over again - same thing, same story.
When you make a movie, you try to *pretend*. At the same time, you want to provoke emotion and thoughts. You want to move people, emotionally and intellectually. That's why actors portray different roles. As for me, I have to pick up the tension, whether it is an English, an American or a Taiwanese version of family drama that reflects the social changes.
That's basically my theme. How the family, in being conservative, gives you security. On the other hand, you want to liberate yourself from it. All those things are very universal. For this picture, I learned a lot from the cast and crew I worked with. Each time, it's an adventure. My next movie is about the Civil War and the following film I'd like to make is a Chinese samurai movie. I want to pick up some action, too. (laughs) And sometimes the more foreign it is, the happier I am, and the more creative. In a way, in our work you need distance. Even though you have to project yourself to the material with the utmost sincerety and connect with it. This is my profession. This is where my soul is. I'm just happy they're paying me for this.
QUESTION: When such directors as John Woo and Jackie Chan set up shop in Hollywood, willy-nilly they become ambassadors of Asian culture. Do you feel that pressure to represent an entire culture - and is it a burden?
ANG LEE: Yes, it's a tremendous burden. I like to make movies. I didn't realize the social bondage that fell on my shoulder - and I'm not a Spike Lee character either. Sometimes, I wish I could happily and sincerely make movies I like to make and I'm glad, so far, I've been able to do that.
I think the world is more open&emdash;minded today. Anything can happen. The film community is getting closer and closer and more understanding. There's more communication. More interests in each other's culture. In a very different way and also in a very universal way. With the movies I made before - the Taiwan Trilogy, if you will - I found that there was, around the world, a layer of audience that was very reachable. Very universal. Everywhere they were the same. They responded. They listened. They saw some of their selves in them.
QUESTION: How much freedom did actors have to develop their characters? They feel so spontaneous.
SIGOURNEY WEAVER: I'm not sure I could pinpoint anything specific. What I found working on this particular script was it was serious but at the same time had a very unusual ironic quality.
More than any script I've ever read or ever done, it was as if the story was one gesture. One huge heart breaking. There's a horrible sort of urgency to this story that I always felt, even though the scenes are all small scenes: dinner party, kids watching TV... they're all static little scenes. And yet there is this build that Ang (Lee) and James (Shamus, the scriptwriter) were able to put in which, to me, really helped me as an actor.
Also Ang would say things which I loved. The spontaneity that you mentioned comes from Ang saying things like "This is a serious scene, but inside you're enjoying this because..." He would let you experience everything at once. It was like... Pandora's box. I think he respected these characters. There was kind of wrecklessness in them, but it was also so many different things going on inside of them. I could really relax and I knew if it was completely wrong, Ang would get me back on track. There was a kind of surrender I felt with Ang. A trust that was very precious.
QUESTION (To Sigourney Weaver): Did you come up with your own look, complete with bangs and earrings and all this sort of early '70s Jane Fonda gear?
SIGOURNEY WEAVER: We had a brilliant costume designer. The early '70s were a very strange, jangly period, and I loved the fact that - sound guys hated me - I was always jangling. She's always making a lot of noise and I thought that was appropriate for Janey.
QUESTION: Mr. Kline?
KEVIN KLINE: What did I contribute to my character? I have no idea. Ang was very articulate. We talked a lot before rehearsals so that there was a mutual understanding among the actors and director about this difficult paradoxical tone. Once we understood we are all of the same mind about the tone, then it was business as usual. We just get on with it. But things had to be clarified beforehand. Because there was a satirical edge in parts of the script. It was sort of like Chekov. An affection for the characters, no matter how flawed they are or might be. And also, like Chekov, it can be funny and tragic at the same time. So, we had a big discussion about the tone of the scene, in terms of how far you can go one way or another. That done, we could experiment at will.
It's not always that one has a director with a vision that he can articulate and communicate. We all had this tremendous confidence in Ang's vision and we were willing to just submit ourselves to the process. But in many situations, an actor's left to his own devices.
ANG LEE: Usually, if you're a smart director, you don't tell
actors anything (Laughs). You don't tell your vision. You just tell
them what they need to know. They're in character, you help them be
true to the character. But these actors were so talented actors, they
would go all the way.
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