ROWLANDS, GENA & HURT, JOHN Ė THE SKELETON KEY
GHOSTS OF NEW ORLEANS
Just days before Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city in August 2005, two stars
of The Skeleton Key, Gena Rowlands and John Hurt, gave this interview to Johanna
Juntunen in New Orleans, where the film is set. Marking the release of the film
on DVD, we dedicate this interview to the memory of New Orleans and all who
lived and died there.
Q: Do you like New Orleans and do you believe in ghosts and Voodoo?
Rowlands: I donít think thereís anyone who doesnít like New Orleans. I
havenít encountered a ghost this time, but I expect I will before I leave.
Q: Do you believe in Voodoo then?
Rowlands: No, I donít.
Q: How about you, Sir?
Hurt: No, but I believe in believing things. Things happen to people who
believe that things will happen to them. Itís happened too many times. You could
get very involved in magic in a sense that you donít know what is actually real.
When you get in that area you start to believe in all sort of things.
Gena is correct, I donít know anybody who doesnít like New Orleans either. There
is an enormous romance attached to it in so many different areas, be it the
graveyards or the artistic areas, itís just an attractive city, architecturally,
especially the French quarter.
Q: You said before, you donít believe in Voodoo?
Rowlands: I personally donít. But itís as John says, there are people who
do believe next to you and then it exists.
Hurt: Same question in a sense, I try to give it another answer. I
believe you need a definition of the word supernatural. Itís a belief, any
religion is based on belief rather than fact. There is no such thing as proof,
but there is such a thing as proof through belief. In that general sense I
believe in it. But Iím not actually a believer.
Q: Ms. Rowlands, this was a very different role for you, was that the reason
you wanted to do The Skeleton Key?
Rowlands: I wanted to do the part because itís a role I havenít ever come
close to in all my years of acting. It was fun to be up there with all the
spooky shadows, trees and old mansions... There were three no six, peacocks in
the backyard at all times. Usually they are not too friendly but these had
obviously been there since they were little. They would take food out of your
hand and do things they werenĎt supposed to. It did have a wonderful atmosphere.
You couldnít have done this movie anywhere but in New Orleans.
Q: Mr. Hurt, you didnít have to memorize too much dialogue for this role, how
tempting was that?
Hurt: Iíve been looking for that for years! That's what attracted me when
Iain Softley approached me, that the character doesnít say anything beside the
occasional outburst. On top of that, I wasnít even me! Me the character! It
posed some interesting things to do, conundrums. The challenge was it had to be
done almost like a silent film. You have to try to get it across with your
expressions, and with modern technology and cutting being what it is, the camera
doesnít exactly linger. So you better get your skates on.
Q: How would you describe the theme of the movie?
Rowlands: The fear of death is the motivator for this couple and they
have found ways to bend minds. If you thought you could get out of dying, I
could see how you could forgive yourself for what you did.
Hurt: They also had a very bad deal and in terms of storytelling they had
a reason to get back at their employer. The plot thickens as it were. It also
has distinct religious connotations, the constant look for the elixir, human
desire. We mix it all up together. It makes good dramatic stuff. I think itís a
kind of religious theme, a continuance.
Q: Were you injured in the scene where you fall down the staircase?
Rowlands: This is not where I was injured. Itís also not where my stunt girl
was injured. How she did that I donít know. They threw her off the stairs and
she rolled off all those steps and then they said ďLetís do it again". I said ďI
canít even stay here and watch this.Ē Where I did get injured was during a night
scene where we were shooting in the mud and the rain and I was carrying a rifle
and a flashlight. I just took a wrong step where it was slippery and I didnít
have a way to protect myself because both my hands were full. So I smashed my
shoulder. But itís perfectly fine now.
Q: Ms. Rowlands, You have had a wonderful career shooting with your husband
and now with your son. Can you talk about working with family?
Rowlands: Well, it seems such a natural thing, I guess. John and I shot a
lot of scenes in our own home. The kids were always coming out of their rooms
stepping over cables. They worked right through it and I donít think that they
thought it was peculiar or anything. They were so used to it that they didnít
have any awe or fear of the media. Although I hadn't expected Nick to become a
filmmaker. What I did expect was that he would become a basketball player which
is what he always wanted. But then he had a bad accident and wasnít able to do
that. Then he did acting, then writing and then directing. On The Notebook, Jim
Garner said, ďthis is the first time I heard somebody yell: ďAction Mom". He
couldnít get over that. I think itís wonderful.
Q: Can you still learn something from young actors like Kate Hudson?
Rowlands: I love working with young actresses to see how they approach
things. Kate is very talented and surprisingly dedicated and serious. Because
she has such a gay and darling personality you might believe that she just would
not take it so seriously. But she does, she isÖ I hate the word professional,
but she loves it.
Hurt: She takes it seriously. The charm of a young actor is always
lovely. I remember working long time ago with Orson Welles on A Man For All
Seasons . He was expounding about how experience was of no great value and I
said ďIt may not be and Iím sure youíre right. But could you explain yourself?"
And he said and looked at me ďItís a matter of choice. The more experience you
have, the more choices there are. The more avenues there are to go wrong." When
you watch somebody whoís a young actor or actress, they donít consider choices,
they know where they want to go. Kateís much like that at the moment and itís
interesting to observe.
Q: Do you feel that this is an unusual film for a big Hollywood studio to
Hurt: I certainly think that the treatment of the genre is unusual and
the ending is unusual. The fact that it isnít tied up in a pretty bow. It goes
down the areas it has chosen to talk about in an unusual way. It was an
Rowlands: It was just so different from anything Iíve ever played. That
always gets you interested. I also liked the actors involved, I always wanted to
work with John. And I love New Orleans, so it came from a lot of places.
Q: Do you feel that actors want to become eternal through the screen?
Rowlands: You answer that, John.
Hurt: Thatís why she likes doing interviews with me. You think itís our
supreme egotism? You hear people say that you will always be remembered because
of your films. I think that is actually something that is wished on us. I
certainly have never entered a film thinking this is my ticket to everlasting
whatever. One does it for the reasons of doing a play. It doesnít cross my mind.
I think itís a perfectly reasonable question nonetheless.
Q: In this movie thereís no family connection at all, is that a relief, joy
Rowlands: Most pictures I donít make with my family. I would love it if
someone were there all the time. Acting is so much fun. To be able to rid
yourself of your own personality for a while, itís like having a vacation. I
think it may be egotism. But I do think if more people in school had to do more
plays and movies more of them would go into the profession. Itís fun and itís
different for your whole life. At my age you can still act and in what other
profession can you say that? And they still will find avenues for you to
explore? Itís a wonderful profession.
Q: What was the most challenging or difficult scene to do?
Rowlands: How about the scene where Kate gives you the bath.
Hurt: Oh, that was really challenging, yesÖbut I canít differentiate one
from the other, I canít give any quips either. We rehearsed it so we knew what
we were doing and where we were going. So we were well equipped to get there,
not challenging as such.
Rowlands: Itís a very clean cut story for such a spooky premise. Once you
Hurt: Once youíre inside it, it makes itself quite apparent.
Q: Have you ever felt another soul taking possession of you?
Hurt: Frequently (laughs). Oddly enough thatís basically what weíre in the
business of doing. Weíre in the game to take over people and hopefully breath
life into them. And when you lose yourself, yeah, probablyÖ
Q: Have you ever lost yourself?
Rowlands: Each day. One weird thing that people always say, even actors
say it, is, that weíre just lying and are liars. Thatís an easy thing to say but
if you consider the actorís contract with the audience Ė ďIím going to pretend
to be someone else for two hours in hopes of entertaining you.Ē And the audience
says ďyes, go ahead, Iíll accept that." That's a very honest agreement on both
sides and it only works if both sides stick to it. You donít lose yourself so
you canít get back. You can lose yourself, just as in life, to the point where
you know you can get back. The only time when weíre in trouble and actors have
breakdowns and such, is when theyíre going a bit too far. But actors are very
aware of that.
Q: In the Lars Von Trier film Dogville, you werenít seen, only heard and in
this one you are seen but not heard. Can you compare these two experiences?
Hurt: The two films were fascinating because even though you werenít
seen, you became a character. One of the characters of the cast of the film.
That in itself was a very interesting thing to do. This was completely the
opposite, because youíre very much there but youíre not heard. I couldnít really
compare them because it was a really different experience.
Q: Where do you feel more secure?
Hurt: Ah, where do I feel the most secureÖYou got me completely, I donít
know how to answer that. They are two different conundrums. Itís a different
approach, one is through the voice, one through your appearance.
Q: How has the movie making changed over the years?
Rowlands: So many changes, it goes at the speed of light. The technical
stuff has gotten beyond me. What they are doing with the cameras and films, and
putting things in the blue wallÖ I think itís intriguing for the filmmakers. It
doesnít necessarily make for better films. Some of the best films Iíve seen were
made many, many years ago. I think right now everybody is obsessed with the
technique and seeing what it can do. And now with the DVDs, such a big struggle
is going on about when to put it out, immediately or not at all. Are you making
a film that is not being seen by a whole lot of people sitting in a theatre,
because thatís a lot different than somebody sitting at home watching by himself
Hurt: Itís constantly developing too and itís still such a young
industry. In terms of the arts itís the youngest art form, still. The likelihood
isÖ itís almost impossible to imagine that film wonít move into the digital
world. There is a huge resistance to that because thereís such a romantic
feeling about film itself. If thatís what youíre talking about. Because the
technical side was always there, first with the silent films then moving into
the talkies that were immediately made into a mushroom of developments, leaving
Rowlands: Do you think they are trying to get rid of us?
Hurt: Probably. One never knows which way itís going to go.
Q: What was your favorite scene to shoot?
Hurt: It was the last scene between us. We didnít expect that kind of
Rowlands: We sort of make it feel it would go to a different direction
which is not making any sense to anybody (laughs).
Hurt: But itís a moment you remember.
Published December 15, 2005
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John Hurt & Gena Rowlands