Political ideology is nothing new to relationship comedies, so perhaps it was just a matter of time before the strained culture of George W. Bush-era America informed its first such film. Which, to hear its leading lady Anna Paquin tell it, is only part of the story behind Blue State, one of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival premieres and the 24-year-old Oscar-winner’s first project as an executive producer. The Reeler recently caught up with Paquin to talk about Blue State‘s place in the political canon, her work behind the scenes and, briefly anyhow, the mystery shrouding her upcoming Kenneth Lonergan collaboration, Margaret:
STV: They’re not letting anyone see the film before the premiere, so I’m at a bit of a disadvantage. But maybe you can go ahead and provide a little background about the story and your involvement.
AP: The film is about a young politically active liberal from San Francisco who makes this drunken proclamation in the last election, if Bush wins, that he’s going to move to Canada. And he basically decides after the election that he’s going to follow through with it. He’s looking for a traveling companion, and he stumbles upon this girl who, for a couple of reasons, is a wildly inappropriate choice, but basically, she’s the only chick who answers his ad. He decides to bring her along. It’s kind of their story/adventure/road trip to Canada and the various strange things that happen once they get there. Ultimately it’s about their developing relationship. So… yeah. I’m not very good at plot summary.
STV: It’s perfect. The title and that synopsis implies a narrative influenced by a particular political philosophy or slant. Is that a misapprehension?
AP: No, but the politics are more of the setting for the story. It’s not really an overly political, message-driven film. It’s more the context for some humor, if you like, and a situation or a reality that I think a lot of people will be people will be familiar with. I think a lot of people, regardless of which side of the debate they’re on, have strong feelings about the last two elections. And it just seemed like the perfect setting for a funny story that ultimately is just about the relationship that forms between these two people. The political slant is just the setting.
STV: Were the film’s politics — to whatever degree they’re emphasized — part of the story’s appeal to you?
AP: You’d have to have been living under a rock to not have some interest in politics since the 2000 election. It wasn’t like we were trying to make a movie that was deeply political or had any strong message of that variety, but do I think there’s a lot of humor to be found in both sides of that debate? Absolutely. That was part of its appeal.
STV: You’re the film’s executive producer as well. How and why did you decide to take on that role?
AP: My brother’s friend is Marshall Lewy, our writer/director. They went to college together. He had written a script, which he showed my brother. My brother and I had been talking for some time about wanting to produce a movie together, and he read the script, passed it along to me. I read it, I liked it and then basically, it just kind of went from there. It wasn’t a terribly long, drawn-out or complicated process. It was just a matter of us finding a piece of material that we liked with someone we knew who wanted to direct it, and whom we felt like we were all on the same page with. Then financed it, cast it, shot it, did post-production and now we’re premiering.
STV: How did you fit into the equation as a producer — using your leverage and experience to help get this film made?
AP: My area of expertise is obviously more on the creative end, so it was more creative decisions: Casting and those things that I have more personal experience with. My brother’s background is finance. The business end of things is his strong point. But it was a good match in terms of our collective strengths and… let’s say not strengths. I’ve been doing this since I was 9, so it’s weird how much you find you instinctively know how a film needs to go — how to make one –from basically just having watched other people doing it for almost 16 years.
STV: And considering the diversity of that experience — blockbusters, genre films, world-class indies — were there specific lessons from specific projects that influenced you in getting this film made?
AP: It would be impossible to say that any one experience really shaped me, I think its more just an accumulation of moments of watching someone else do something and be really impressed. “Wow, that’s fascinating.” Or a conversation here or there. I can say that I’ve consistently worked with some of the more interesting talented and compelling people in various aspects of the film industry throughout my career. Whether I knew it or not, a lot of inspirations would be drawn from every film I’ve done.
STV: What was the creative exchange like with Marshall, especially in terms of going back to the tight-budgeted, tight-scheduled indie environment?
AP: I’ve worked on plenty of tight-budgeted, tight-scheduled indies; I would say that’s more the situation I’m familiar and comfortable with than, you know, X-Men films. This is my comfort zone: the “There’s your teeny tiny corner to go get changed in, with a curtain” kind of environment more than the huge films where they have obscene amounts of money and spoil everyone. It’s Marshall’s material; if the person who writes has some inclination or desire to direct, that’s very often the best person to do it. They know what they want. He was very clear and very good at his job. But it was very much a collaboration between him, myself and (co-star) Breckin Meyer. We were all on the same page; it was a very easy process.
STV: There are growing numbers of actresses who go into producing as a means of getting a film they want to star in made. Others might join a project just to produce. Where does Blue State fall on this spectrum for you professionally?
AP: Truthfully, I think Marshall’s material was good enough that somebody would have wanted to make it. I don’t know how long that process is if you don’t have an actor who doesn’t attaches him or herself to it; I don’t have that much experience on the other end of it. But it’s a smart and funny and sweet story, and I think the characters are really interesting. I haven’t seen 10 other films that are like this; it’s got its own unique voice. It was just a film I wanted to do, and given a choice of “Do it ourselves” or “Try to get someone else to do it,” why not do it ourselves? We were looking for an opportunity to produce something. Is it the kind of film that would only get done if we did it? No, I don’t think so. I think it has broader appeal than that. But I know what you’re talking about as far as being an actress and there being the lack of interesting material for women in our business. Sometimes, yeah — the only way to get the film made would be to do it yourself. But I’ve also been very lucky that the kind of material that I get to see is always very interesting and high-quality. I can’t really complain.
STV: But it also seems like you’re fairly selective. A lot of your contemporaries may have three or four releases in a year; you’re doing one or two. Is that the right number of projects for you, or should there be more?
AP: I’m always working — I’m either doing a play or a film or something. It’s hard to gauge how much someone works by release dates; it’s all really arbitrary. I haven’t really had time off per se for quite some time; I’m always promoting something or working on something. And I do a lot of theater, which obviously never “comes out,” and if you’re not in New York you don’t see it. The last five or six years, I can’t really think of a time when I’ve not been working and wanted to be, or not been working on a major holiday.
STV: That actually leads into my last question in a way: What the hell is going on with Margaret? Last I heard, Kenneth Lonergan is locked in an editing room with a three-hour film.
AP: Well, Kenny’s a friend of mine, so… what I know and what you know and what other people know is not going to be the same thing. He’s still working on it. That’s about all I’ve got. I guess when Kenny is ready to share it with people, that’s his call. He’s a brilliant artist, and when he’s finished with it, that’s when everybody will see it. Until then, honestly, he’s one of those people I just trust so implicitly creatively that whatever his process is is just his process. [Pause] But if I wasn’t in it, I would be on the same page.