Just a few weeks after the release of Oren Moverman’s The Messenger and its look at the soldiers who have to inform the loved ones of soldiers when they’re killed in the line of duty, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father, My Left Foot, In America) returns with his own version of Susanne Bier’s Danish drama Brothers, starring Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman in a fraternal love triangle mitigated by the presumed death of a soldier in Afghanistan.
Maguire plays Sam Cahill, the Marine captain and father of two, who is seemingly killed in a helicopter crash while on assignment in Afghanistan. Having spent his life getting into trouble, his brother Tommy (Gyllenhaal) steps forward to take responsibility and help Sam’s grieving widow Grace (Portman) take care of their two kids, unaware that Sam is still alive and trying to get back home. The tension that’s already been building within the Cahill family due to the conflict between the brothers explodes when Sam gets home and immediately suspects Grace of having an affair with his brother. This intense drama deals with the realities of how the war at home can often be as difficult as the one abroad and how one particular soldier must come to terms with what he’s endured in order to keep his family from falling apart.
ComingSoon.net attended the New York City press conference for the movie with Maguire, Gyllenhaal and Portman all in attendance, along with director Jim Sheridan and producer Ryan Kavanaugh. The three actors have known each other for a long time, and while Gyllenhaal kept the mood light and got quite a few laughs, everyone realized the film addresses some serious issues and the questions remained on topic, rather than the usual press conference questions about the actors’ private lives.
When Portman was asked about forming chemistry with her two male leads, she enthusiastically responded, “It was actually really exciting ’cause this is the first time I’ve ever worked with actors that I knew before. “I met Tobey when I was 14, I met Jake when I was 18, so there was a level of familiarity from the first day, which was really a nice way to enter into it. We also had a nice rehearsal period for a few weeks before we started, where we got to go over each other’s houses and talk about it and try things out.”
“I had heard about this project happening a while before anybody was talking to me about it and then I heard about it again when Jim and Jake was involved,” Maguire added. “I got really excited about working with these guys and getting to play that relationship with Jake. It was something that really attracted me to it, other than the subject matter. The idea of working with Natalie, like she said. I remember the day that I met her, she taught me a valuable lesson, which was the “three block rule.” We were at a screening of a movie and I don’t think I liked the movie that much and I was going to talk about it and she said, ‘Wait a second, you don’t know the three-block rule. You don’t talk about the movie until you’re three blocks away, cause you never know who is listening.’ I’ve remembered that since then.”
Gyllenhaal gave his own explanation for the chemistry with his co-stars. “Because we’ve known each other, I found making the movie had some fascinating complications and interactions just as the people that we are. People have often said to me that I look like Tobey, so I thought it was a perfect casting thing that Jim put us together. We really just made the movie so I could say that I look a little different from Tobey. For all those cab drivers in New York, I am NOT Spider-Man!” Portman starts giggling throughout Jake’s response but then the entire place breaks up with laughter over that proclamation.
“It’s fun to get to play with people of your generation or your peers who you really respect and you know, to whatever level, be it somewhere between friends and acquaintances,” Maguire concurred. “It was really exciting, and like Jake said, your personal relationship, it gets intertwined with what you’re doing, and it’s a really interesting process. I felt really fortunate to do this with these folk, and I was definitely was excited at the challenge. Mostly I was attracted to the subject matter and to do something that could shine a light on something and hopefully start a conversation about something that’s probably not talked about as much as we should talk about it.”
“That (chemistry) was just there,” Gyllenhaal continued. “It existed and it took very little to make that happen, and I think that’s incredible. A little uncomfortable on set sometimes because what is real sometimes is also what is being pretended, but at the same time, as an actor, it’s great food… for a great meal,” he said screeching to a halt, realizing it wasn’t going where he thought.
Gyllenhaal also stepped forward to address the idea of starring in a remake, first in earnest and then a little more facetiously. “I think we all felt this tremendous responsibility and a little bit of a burden in remaking a film. Because the first version of this film was so extraordinary, I think all of us approached each character–because I think we all did watch the movie and each one of the actors gave a pretty extraordinary performances–but I think in transposing it to America, you start to see cultural differences and reactions to situations that are different, depending on the culture. We all looked at that as a great opportunity. And then to have Jim, just coming from Ireland, it was interesting to see how he would say how he would expect the character to act and then how an American would respond to the situation.”
Realizing that things were getting a bit too serious, he added with a smile, “But being in a remake is great fun. I suggest it to everybody, everybody in the room and every actor out there! Pick your favorite movie and redo it!” And he also immediately realized that as soon as saying that, the joke would appear as a quote in an article much like this one.
A lot of people have already been talking about Maguire’s amazing transformation in the film, especially in the last act where we see him showing emotions we’ve never seen from him before on film, but he remained modest about the process needed to reach that. “The role requires what it requires,” he said when asked about that transformation. “I think I lost around 20 pounds, and I started out where I am now, so to lose 20 pounds was challenging but I went from about 156 to about 136 pounds in 5 weeks. I’ve had to do it before actually, and it’s not the most fun to do.” Sheridan quickly quipped that he lost five pounds during the process of making the film.
Maguire’s co-star was far more forthcoming about praising his work in the film. “I think that watching Tobey in the movie is the most extraordinary piece of it,” Gyllenhaal admitted. “I have been blessed to watch actors who people didn’t feel could perform a certain thing or were a sort of way, and I’ve been honored to watch that. It’s always nice to see when people, like journalists, have never thought of someone one way can see them in another way. I watched Tobey go from the first part of the movie, then we had a Christmas break in between and when he came back, he was another person from who he was in the first couple weeks we started shooting. That was an extraordinary transformation, not only to watch as an actor, but now watching the movie as an audience member, I now feel that way, too.”
Portman talked about the research she did for the role: “I spoke to some Marine wives and talked to them about their experiences and how their kids reacted when their father was away and the kinds of things husbands would do before they left and what it was like when they came back and how everything changed. I think the most interesting thing was that they viewed it as the home being their own front, that they had to really keep everything under control at home so their husbands could do their job. Even if there was something going on (like) the kids were acting up or it was hard to pay the bills, you never ever tell your husband, because they need to focus on their job and there’s nothing they can do because they’re away. They’re tough because they’re soldiers in their own right.”
As did Tobey: “I did speak with some military psychologists and I read some articles and went online and read about the families of (soldiers) who suffered psychological traumas and spent some time with both Marines and Army.”
And Jake: “I can say that in researching the character that I played, Jim and I went to a lot of different jails and juvenile halls in L.A. county and I met these kids in this writing program and they were extraordinary kids. One of them was this incredible storyteller that Jim ended up putting in the movie as one of the guys in the helicopter with Tobey.”
Producer Ryan Kavanaugh addressed the idea of making a movie that might be seen by audiences as some sort of war movie, rather than as a family drama, especially considering that movies about war and soldiers have notoriously had trouble attracting audiences. “Obviously, a big part of the movie is war, but we don’t really see it as a war movie per se. When I looked at a lot of the movies that didn’t work in box office, they were really movies about war. This is a movie that’s a lot more about family and the relatability of a person’s good side, a person’s bad side, and how far will someone go, and it happens to surround a war. Also, it happens to touch on a topic that a lot of people don’t like to see, but I think in making the movie, we did a lot of research. We screened the original and saw what people liked, what they didn’t like, and we tried to use that to create a movie that everybody can relate to the characters. Even Tobey when he goes so far, to a level that nobody has to witness in real life, but there’s a part of that hopefully everybody in a way can say, ‘Would I go that far?’ Hopefully that’s the difference with this movie. It’s really a story about a family and a story about love and a story about keeping something together; it’s really about people and how they react in those situations, it’s not really about the war.”
Gyllenhaal added his own two cents on the matter. “It’s funny that people are asking whether this is some kind of war movie, and I’ve definitely been involved in movies that people have said that to me in press conferences over and over, and as a result of trying to sell the movie, there’s an inclination to not talk about that. You’re kind of backed into a corner, but I don’t actually think anybody is trying to pretend like we’re in some corner. We’re not in a corner. The movie is a journey and how they’re selling the movie is fascinating because the most extraordinary part of the movie is not given away at all in any of these ads or how they’re selling it. It’s the journey that Tobey’s character makes to get back home. It is intertwined with a lot of other complications but it’s mostly about what this man does to get back to the people that he loves and his life.”
Finally, Maguire mused on why stories about soldiers like the one he plays need to be told. “People don’t like to talk about that stuff so much. I mean, people will, but these folks go over there and suffer these traumas and feel alone. They don’t feel like people can relate. I’m generalizing obviously. Some people can talk about it, some people do get help, but a lot of folks go over and feel like their worldview has changed. They can’t relate to us, the civilians, and it’s very challenging for them. There’s a lot of shame and embarrassment and they try to take it on themselves and they’re suffering. They’re dealing with some really complicated psychological problems. They need us to be a little more proactive in society to reach out to them and to lend a hand and to have a conversation about it.”
Brothers opens next Friday, December 4. Look for our exclusive interview with Mr. Jim Sheridan sometime early next week.
Thanks to Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood-Elsewhere for the use of the picture.