Film Scouts Interviews

Nick Cassavetes, Gérard Depardieu, and Gena Rowlands on "Unhook the Stars"

by Lisa Nesselson

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"Unhook the Stars," the first film written and directed by Nick Cassavetes, stars his mother, Gena Rowlands, Marisa Tomei and Gerard Depardieu. The big-hearted drama with comic overtones opens in France on September 4th.

Rowlands plays Mildred Hawkes, a widow whose spoiled son and chronically unhappy daughter have left home - a spacious home in an unspecified suburban setting. Mildred's life grows more interesting when her across-the-way neighbor, Monica (Tomei), drops off her taciturn son J.J. (Jake Lloyd) for a day of emergency childcare. Monica's abusive spouse has hit the road and Monica, whose work ethic is as strong as her New Yorky accent, needs to go cover her shift at the local creamery.

Mildred, a nurturing sort, is only too eager to help. Far from being put out, she enjoys the little boy's company. Mildred knows how to communicate with a youngster on his own level, but she also intends to read the entire encyclopedia to J.J. starting with the entry for "a capella" in volume "A". (To illustrate the concept, a slightly soused Rowlands will later end up singing an a capella version of "MacArthur Park" with French-Canadian trucker Big Tommy - played by Gerard Depardieu. Although "MacArthur Park", whether crooned by Richard Harris or Rowlands and Depardieu is always deeply peculiar, it seems positively mainstream compared to the clunky ballroom dance number that pairs Depardieu with Whoopi Goldberg in another film premiering here in Deauville, Norman Jewison's "Bogus".)

Monica, whose hairstyle is early rat's nest, and her estranged hubby Frankie (whose DNA would probably get along with Steve Tyler and Iggy Pop) are a bit too rough-edged for the genteel neighborhood, but Monica is determined to better herself and provide a good life for her son. The passage of time is marked by major holidays and their accompanying mine fields of emotion: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and Valentine's Day.

When Mildred's role as a surrogate parent is threatened, she decides to take charge of her own life and options once again.

Nick Cassavetes - the son of Rowlands and the late actor/director John Cassavetes - makes an honorable if unexciting debut with a story (co-written with Helen Caldwell) about people of different ages passing through one other's lives, leaving kindness or disarray in their wake.

Rowlands, who probably couldn't give an unresonant performance if her life depended on it, holds things together. Her features light up the screen and her rapport with J.J. feels genuine.

It's no stretch for the amiable Depardieu to convince as a truck driver from Quebec.

Although Tomei's thesping has an unmistakable energy that will either appeal or annoy, her role at times seems to have been written by people who have sworn to uphold a working class stereotype gleaned mostly from TV and other movies.

On September 2nd, Rowlands - suffering from a cold but exquisite even with the sniffles - strapping and modest Cassavetes and Depardieu, clad in a white t-shirt with his dishwater blond hair falling over his long distinctive face, met with the press in Deauville's Casino.

Q: Mr. Depardieu, we understand that you agreed to act in this film before you ever read the script and that you co-produced the movie. What is your connection to the Cassavetes family?
A: John Cassavetes made remarkable films about extraordinary characters. I picked up the distribution rights to the five Cassavetes films that were available for France and released them here, to great success. So, I met the whole extended Cassavetes family - Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk, Seymour Cassel, Gena - and found them to be even more real in real life than in the movies. My connection with Nick is such that I could agree to appear in his film on trust alone. But I DID read the script before I showed up on the set.

Q: Miss Rowlands, as a mother, what would you say is the fine line between providing for a child in all the important ways and spoiling him rotten?
A: What fascinated me about Mildred was that she wasn't the best mother who ever lived, but she tried, she really tried. She ended up with the most spoiled son and the most unhappy daughter, but she really tried. What's the saying? Genes deal the cards and environment plays the hand. You don't know where your influence starts and stops. I think Mildred loved too much, which made it hard for her when she was no longer needed.

Q: Mr. Depardieu, are you better known in the U.S. now since "Green Card"?
A: Well, I don't know whether it's because of "Green Card" or other films I've made, but I have to say that people are always very nice to me wherever I go in America. They certainly don't hate me. I get very good tables in restaurants. And, contrary to popular belief, one can eat very well indeed in the United States.

Q: Mr. Cassavetes, does it bother you to know that people have very high expectations because you're the son of the great John Cassavetes?
A: My father had a long and distinguished career and, in what he did in the films he made, he was ahead of his time. I'm not John. We have the same appreciation for good actors and human stories, but that's where the comparison stops. I'm a young filmmaker (note: Nick was born May 21, 1959). I've made one film and I'm embarking on a second (note: which will also be produced by French producers Rene Cleitman and Gerard Depardieu). Maybe years from now, once I have a body of work, you can look back on it and find similarities. But for now, to compare us is preposterous.

Q: Miss Rowlands, I represent a Russian newspaper and I would like to know why you aren't more famous than you are. You are a gorgeous, gifted actress. Sharon Stone mentioned you as one of the actresses she most admires, but my colleagues and I don't know enough about you. Shouldn't you have done more high-profile parts and shouldn't you be more of a celebrity?
A: First of all, thank you for those superlatives. You don't think about it when you're starting out. I had not wanted to be a movie actress at all. I had hoped to be a stage actress all my life. And then John got really interested in film. He said, "There's more to be done here, film really has potential." And we were acting in the theater and saying "He's gone nuts. John's gone nuts." But as we worked in film, me and Ben and Peter and John, we got infatuated.
I consider my career to have been much more than I ever hoped for. I came, by chance and luck, to find someone whom I loved who wrote GREAT parts. Any actress would have killed for ONE of them - and I had seven! And then, to have your son walk in and say, "Mom, look at this" and it's "Unhook the Stars." I tell you, I've had all the wonderful parts that any actress could hope for.

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