Interview: Martha Plimpton on Making Mass, script pacing and Midwestern pragmatism
We’re continuing a series of interviews for one of the most talked about films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival: the writing/directing debut of actor Fran Kranz, Mass. The film carefully examines the journey of two groups of parents whose children were directly involved in a high school shooting. Reed Birney and Ann Dowd play the young shooter’s parents, while Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton play the grieving parents of one of the boy’s victims.
It is no coincidence that Kranz chose four veterans of the scene as the protagonists of this story, since the entire sequence in the room – approximately 75 minutes of the total duration – was shot chronologically over several days, making the room sparsely decorated church meeting. the impression that it becomes smaller over the minutes. It’s an uncomfortably raw and open conversation that gives each actor several moments to really shine.
just like her Mass Dowd counterpart, Plimpton has deep roots in Chicago theater. Until recently, Plimpton was an ensemble member of the Steppenwolf Theater Company, while Dowd was a staple in the 1980s. I was barely discovering the joys of Chicago theater when I saw Plimpton in his Steppenwolf debut , the 1996 production The Libertine, opposite John Malkovich. She also had critically acclaimed performances in Glass factory and Hedda Gabler to Steppenwolf; she became a member of the ensemble in 1998
The daughter of actors Keith Carradine and Shelley Plimpton, Martha was nominated for a Tony Award and won the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Award for her performance in The Lincoln Center’s Tom Stoppard Trilogy. The Coast of Utopia. She was just a teenager when she appeared in 1980s films The river rat, The Goonies, parenthood, The Mosquito Coastand Runs empty. And my adoration for her “Raising Hope” series (for which she was nominated for an Emmy) knows no bounds.
I recently spoke with Plimpton about his work on the film and how his character in particular struggles the most to get to a place of forgiveness and move on. The film is playing in select theaters and will likely be available on digital soon. keep an eye on it. Enjoy my conversation with Martha Plimpton…
As a theater veteran, when you first read this, did you see it as some sort of play? And what do you remember reacting the strongest to about the script?
I didn’t see it as a play and I don’t think it is. This was not planned. I think it’s very much a movie, but I felt it had to be repeated as if it were a play. I spoke to Fran and said, “I think it’s only going to work if we sit around the table, and we rehearse this for a week.” And it turned out that we didn’t have the time or the money to get everyone together and make everyone’s schedules work, as well as our budget. We ended up having a little over two days, but it ended up being perfect and worked really well for us. Because we’ve all had a theatrical background and we’re all used to the experience of being part of an ensemble and building that intimacy pretty quickly, we were able to do that. But I knew it wasn’t a play because if it was, we should have gotten up from the table more often. [laughs].
In rehearsals, since it was so little time together, what were the things that were emphasized?
We told many stories. I think we only went through the script once, because we shared a lot. Fran told stories, Ann told stories, and then we all bonded instantly, which was really important. And we also talked a bit about what brought [the characters] here, how was our life at home, where did we come from. Jason and I, what was our relationship like? How was our marriage? Do we still share a bed? We all felt it was really necessary. And of course, Jason and I, being very different people, didn’t agree on a lot of things, but that turned out great too, because it illustrated where Gail and Jay were as a couple. He comes to this meeting really feeling that Gail is the one who needs it the most, but he finds that he needs it just as much.
The film reminds us that not only does everyone grieve differently, but part of the grieving process is also figuring out what comes next. And that’s what’s happening here; everyone is plotting where they go from here. Without giving anything away, your character ends up in a different place from the others at the end.
She is very tight and coiled. She knows what has to happen and that she’s supposed to do something, do those things, say those words, but as she says in the movie “I just don’t know if I can say it.” She’s in a battle with herself, and when it comes out of her, it surprises her as much as anyone else. I don’t think she can even consider saying the words until they actually come out of her mouth. And I think that’s the nature of that kind of experience, although I’ve certainly never had anything like the experience that Gail has. That’s what’s so hard for us as human beings, because we think of forgiveness or redemption or grace as some kind of accomplishment that we come to after doing all that hard work, when ‘actually it’s a process, and there’s an ebb and flow. . It is the opening of the door rather than its closing. That’s why I think “closure” is such a dumb concept.
I had assumed that the entire reunion sequence was shot chronologically – I don’t know how you could do otherwise. What were the benefits for you of doing this?
Unfortunately, anything we shot outside of the theater we had to do first, for three or four days. So we had to shoot the ending before shooting things in the room, which was quite difficult for Ann, for all of us. Once we got into that room, it was extremely helpful to shoot in order, because there’s momentum in this movie. It’s one of the most cinematic things I’ve ever been part of or seen, because there’s this momentum that you feel when you read the script and when you do it with these other actors. You can feel the beat, where it’s flowing, where it’s getting more urgent. There is a musicality that is only helped by doing it in order, like playing a piece of music.
One of my first remarks about the film was that the script has a rhythm.
Yes exactly. I felt it when I read it and I read it to the end the first time, which is very rare for me. I don’t usually read scripts cover to cover; Either I’m bored or I’m confused. The format is complicated for me to visualize in general, but not with this scenario. I read it and heard the music, the rhythm, and I think Fran was so exacting in his writing and so specific in what he chose where and why. He worked on it for quite a few years, it was totally organic.
Did you make it an experience that you will take with you? It seems like an all-timer, in that regard.
Absoutely. And Reed said it too. This is the kind of movie you hope for and dream of. That’s why we become actors, in the hope that something like this happens. It’s so rare for a filmmaker to be brave enough to make a film like this that doesn’t have any of the typical trappings of a regular film narrative. There are no flashbacks or inserts, there is very little, if any, score. And it all depends on the actors and the script, and giving us the responsibility to retain the audience, that’s what every actor hopes for, to receive that trust from a director. It will stay with me, and these people will. Ann has said it many times: “We will never get rid of each other. We will be in each other’s lives forever. We feel very connected.
Speaking of something that ties you to Ann, you both have pretty deep theatrical roots in Chicago. I’m in Chicago now and have been since the mid 80’s so I gotta see you at The Libertine and Hedda Gabler.
Oh my God really?! It’s awesome.
What do you think is the most Chicago thing about you?
Shit, I could be saying something really dangerous right now. I guess that’s my franchise. I think it’s a city thing; it’s a New York thing too. Plus, I think I also have a Midwestern pragmatism, kind of a “move on” attitude that I think is very Chicago.
One of the things that I noticed when I asked this question of the theater people in Chicago is that a lot of them treat work like work, and I’m not saying that in a bad way . It is a profession you train for and work hard for; it’s less art than work, and the size of the theater or the audience doesn’t matter.
Yes Yes. This is what I mean by pragmatism; it’s a work. I’m a working actor and I’m lucky to be able to say that. The whole thing is very important to me, and Steppenwolf is where I first experienced that as an ethos, something I thought about rather than just doing. Actors in Chicago, like actors in London, are very pragmatic, not attached to the job, and that makes it possible to take the job more seriously, if you don’t take yourself too seriously. And you can have more fun doing it.
With Mass, what do you hope people take away from this film? What are the conversations you hope to spark?
This movie comes at a very pivotal time for our culture, for our society, especially in America, but maybe also here in the UK. There is such a big chasm between us, there is so much anger and recrimination and alienation towards each other. It’s really hard for people to imagine that they could hear each other or listen to each other, or talk to each other and be heard. There is such distrust. What I hope is that this movie can show that it’s possible for people to do that, people sit across from each other and have these conversations and find a way forward . It’s not a straight line, it’s not a straight line, but it’s the beginning or the opening of something, and that’s what I hope people feel when they see this movie , that they know it is possible. We are not stuck; we can move forward.
Is there anything in particular about Gail that was difficult for you to accept?
It’s funny to say that, and I don’t mean to be flippant. The filmmaking process had its difficulties, but I liked Fran’s script so much that I let the script do the work, so I didn’t find myself saying “I really have to focus or struggle. or fight with it.” I didn’t feel it at all or struggle with it. I just let the script do its job and tried to serve it as best I could.
Martha, thank you very much.
Thank you very much. It was really nice talking to you. Take care.
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