The Myth of Fingerprints begins with images of a home movie taken 20 years ago -- images in whose shadows lies a secret of lost love and uncommunicated hope. It is a secret that will, when those images unfurl again at the end of the film, be revealed, shared, and understood in Bart Freundlich's first feature.
The screenplay for Myth, in its subtle interweaving of each family member's story, took three years to write. Says Freundlich: "I wanted to make each person as whole and as real as possible, spending time and getting to know each of them, while still crafting a narrative that would move organically to a final series of self-revelations and life changes."
With so many different parts it became a real challenge to cast actors who not only would work in their individual roles but who would also fit together as family. The first to commit was Noah Wyle for the part of Warren.
"I had been reading a lot of scripts," says Wyle. "And very few have such three dimensional characters. In Bart's script, everybody's got faces that they show their family, friends and lovers. They're not always the same and sometimes they all collide and the characters have to deal with it."
"When you're an adult coming home," Wyle continues, "your parents look at you as if you're still a child. Yet you've been out making your way in the world, feeling like an adult. But at home, instinctually you revert back to a really adolescent form of behavior -- both with your brothers and sisters and with your parents. You become subservient. And then you feel that you want to combat that behavior. You want to come home and you want to be a man and show your parents who you are now. But there's no getting around the fact that the ties that bind never break. And it's really easy to revert back to who you were as opposed to fighting the good fight for who you've become. Warren definitely experiences that."
Wyle continues: "Warren's a very charismatic guy when he chooses to be. I think that's what makes him such an interesting character. I'm playing someone who is so sad that he can let three years of his life just go by. But he's intelligent and articulate enough to entertain a whole room when he's up. He masks his sadness. The Thanksgiving weekend, though, is a cathartic time for him to come to terms with a lot of the problems and demons of his past. Warren needs to get to a place where he can go on living his life. A key for him getting to that place is his relationship with Daphne [Warren's former girlfriend.]"
"Everyone has a relationship in their life that they feel was perfect - but then, of course, it turns out to be something different," Freundlich says. As time goes by, there's always a tendency to idealize those people. In the movie, we know Warren has not let go of Daphne and in his mind, she is the perfect woman. I wanted to cast someone who could portray Daphne as a real person, someone who could see the vulnerability in Warren while not letting it totally define her. Arija Bareikis definitely brought that quality to the part."
Wyle continues, "Arija has this ethereal, sort of spiritual, nurturing quality about her that, while I never saw that initially in the part, is perfect for the role. Her nature is such a contrast to the family, so you get this love story in the middle of a family drama that's really unique. In a family full of sharp witted, articulate, sarcastic, cynical people, you've got this breath of fresh air who is really pure and innocent and untainted. It's a big salvation for my character."
Bareikis explains, "Daphne's relationship with Warren is pivotal in the movie, especially in terms of Warren's development. She has taken her past and digested it fully. Warren has a hard time doing that. But Daphne recognizes that people make mistakes; they are human. The love in her relationship with Warren is more important to her than all the misunderstandings that have surrounded it. She understands Warren has huge issues with his father (Hal) that have spilled over into their relationship."
For the role of Hal, the man who is perhaps the most significant presence in Warren's life, Freundlich cast two-time Academy Award nominee Roy Scheider. "I approached Hal as a combination between the written father, my father and me," Scheider remarks. "There is a lot of the dark side of me that is cynical and competitive, as there was with my own father."
"Not many people live up to their parents' expectations," Scheider continues. "Hal sees how frustrated his children are. He wants to tell them it doesn't matter that much if they live up to his expectations. But he can't. He doesn't have the equipment or the tools to sit down and talk to his children. He realizes that he is of no real use to them. He loves his children, but he's lost the capacity to tell them that. He's left it up to his wife for too many years."
Blythe Danner, who had worked with Scheider on Broadway in Harold Pinter's "Betrayal" was tapped to portray Lena, Hal's wife and Warren's mother. Freundlich notes, "From the time I had written the role of Lena, I had Blythe Danner in mind. I went to meet her in LA and right away I realized that she was perfect. She couldn't stop feeding me and making sure I was comfortable."
Danner comments: "I think THE MYTH OF FINGERPRINTS is wonderfully complex. I was very taken with the fact that even though Lena is very much a mother for her children, she is not one or two dimensional. She's very much a three dimensional character. And even though she's not on screen all the time, I think you sense a presence of a woman who's very loving."
"We're all supposed to love our children," Danner states. "That doesn't mean that we don't love our children, but after they leave us, sometimes we treasure some of the privacy. Your life changes and you become much more entrenched in the relationship with your spouse. And sometimes when the children come home, they can cause a little bit of a wedge. And you have to adjust. We don't often see a story, about a parent, especially the father, who really feels threatened when his children come home. I think Bart deals with that subject well."
Warren's older brother, Jake (Michael Vartan) brings home his current girlfriend Margaret (Hope Davis), who proves to be the one character in the film that doesn't pose a threat to Hal. Freundlich comments: "It's an odd phenomenon to go into someone's house and discover you can find a deeper bond with their family than they can. It's also one that has great comedic possibility." As Margaret, Hope Davis proved to be the perfect antidote for both Hal and the family.
Davis explains, "I think Margaret is probably a big relief to all of them. I was attracted to her freedom. She can just walk into a room, sit down and speak the truth. She's not afraid of anybody. And people immediately respond to her because she's not full of defenses and walls."
"Hal in particular, is happy to have somebody who will be sweet to him and talk to him. Because he's screwed up with the rest of his family. They don't want to deal with him. They can't even see him anymore. Margaret sees everyone clearly."
"Bart and I thought that she's probably a person who has had a bit of analysis in her own life," Davis says. "So she's willing to deal with dysfunction and understands it and gives it space. She probably gives everyone some breathing room which is how she's been able to exist in her relationship with Jake."
Jake, Davis notes, "has not been able to speak words of love to Margaret. I truly believe, though, that she loves him and knows that some day he's going to relax enough to say that he loves her."
Vartan explains, "Jake's the kind of guy who's good at everything. He's good at sports. He's always going out with a beautiful woman. But that's only his exterior. On the inside, he's been quietly affected by the same environment as his brother Warren and his two sisters, Leigh and Mia. As the film goes on, his self doubt slowly reveals itself."
In contrast, Mia, the oldest sibling played by Julianne Moore, is a character who manifests any self-doubt in anger towards her family or anyone else she might come across. Freundlich elaborates: "Mia runs counterpoint to her brothers - she's the second heart of the movie. Mia has been affected by the same circumstances while growing up but has treated them in a totally different way than Warren has. She doesn't know how to free herself from all her anger."
Moore comments, "Mia is the kind of character that you don't often see in movies. She's somebody who is unrepentantly angry. And her anger masks everything else. She resents her family and is clearly an outsider. Rather than participate, Mia sort of orbits her family. I don't know that you root for her and I kind of like that."
Freundlich cast Moore "because she is able to communicate an enormous range of emotions and thoughts simply by being still. And when she smiles, she is transformed, her entire person changes. And that was very important - especially with regards to the character's relationship with Cezanne (James LeGros)."
Over the course of the holiday, Mia becomes involved with Leonard Morrison, who, since their last meeting in kindergarten, has changed his name to Cezanne. Freundlich had met James LeGros and given him the script months before casting began. Moore adds, "Cezanne is somebody who is very available and present emotionally. He seems to be able to see Mia in some way that the other characters can't. And she's sort of drawn to their shared past."
Elliot (Brian Kerwin), Mia's current lover, however, complicates her relationship with Cezanne. "At the first meal at which he joins the family, I don't think that half of them could even tell the others his name," Kerwin comments. "Elliot's there for the weekend. He's not part of the family. Everyone is polite to him but it stops there. He's the guy who is always dumped and he's just killing time until it happens again.I don't give Elliot as much of the benefit of the doubt as the others. Everyone thinks you need to love your character, but I feel sorry for Elliot. He is a poor, sad schlep who doesn't have a clue about how relationships work or don't work. He doesn't even notice that Mia's little sister Leigh (Laurel Holloman) is interested in him."
"Leigh is one of those people who comes out of the womb fully formed." Holloman says, "Somehow amidst all the miscommunication she has managed to stay a carefree spirit. Part of just having the crush on Elliot is winning something over Mia. Sisters seem to be born with this competitive thing."
Holloman also notes, "Leigh is discovering things for herself sexually - who she is and what kind of woman she wants to be. I think she takes that from the women in her family. She looks at her mother and her sister. And she sees the way her sister behaves and what the results of that behavior is. Consequently, she wants to have her own identity."
"Fortunately, Leigh didn't get all the baggage," Holloman adds. "She isn't nearly as damaged as some of the characters. She is the baby of the family. But she has a sense of loss being the youngest in the family. It gets very lonely watching her brothers and sisters leave home."
According to Freundlich, "THE MYTH OF FINGERPRINTS is about a family that can neither connect nor disconnect from one another. And watching a family of actors and crew members connect was amazing and very surreal." Of his first experience directing a feature film, Freundlich notes, "During rehearsal, I was extremely nervous. I had all these actors - people who didn't know one another - to sort of choreograph. The only common bond we had was the script, so I felt torn and sort of all over the place. But two days before shooting, I became totally calm. I don't really know why. I think I just began to feel that the actors were sort of there to catch me."
Wyle notes that, "It's been really interesting working with a director who is my age. The plus factor is just insane. If I'm talking about a past relationship, trying to make a parallel with Daphne and Warren's relationship, Bart was right there because he understands what it's like to be in your twenties and dating. And to be the product of a modern, dysfunctional household."
Adds Holloman, "Bart's style benefits an ensemble because it's very nurturing and laid back. He sort of lets the actors come together and create a family - which is very difficult to do...to create all that history. He opened that up and allowed us to just behave around each other."
About the title, Freundlich remarks, "It's about identity and how it's not a constant the way a fingerprint is. People change and you might not always be able to find them by examining just one mark they make in their life - you might have to grow with them and change with them and accept how they change in order to continually find them to be someone you know.
"I mean is there actually something that is a core to your identity, like your family, your childhood? Are those things always defining you or are you constantly changing, moving away from them? I guess both."
"The idea of constant identity makes me think of the word 'myth', something we've heard of, something we might strive for, but in the end remains elusive, only a story."
|Copyright ©1997. All Rights Reserved.||Please mail us with any questions or comments.|