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On the Actors
On the ActorsLinda Lavin has a wonderful urbaneness, a kind of sauciness, a sexuality that is ageless. She also has an innate jewishness which I think is so much a part of who Ruth is. It is so much a part of her sensibility, her sense of humor, her spiciness, her juiciness as a character. And that's what Linda inhabits so phenomenally.

One of the things that attracted me to Samantha Mathis for this role was that I wanted a young actress who did not seem like an actress but who had a kind of intensity about her that would convince me that she might in fact be a writer. Unlike a lot of ingenues who are attractive and poised, they don't quite convince you that they have the stuff inside that is darker than what they are able to portray. And Samantha in her early film performances did have that darkness that I found very intriguing.

From Stage to Screen
The expectations of its being a play somehow fit the [TV] medium very well. I didn't feel compelled to open it up in that way that plays are very unfortunately opened up... where you sense that ideas are imposed on the play rather than letting the play be served. The fact that this is a two-hander and should remain a two-hander was really of utmost importance to me when contemplating its translation to another medium beyond the stage.

Onstage it's a single set play, and here because we were shooting it in a "Playhouse 90" fashion, we were able to use the floorplan of a house. To move around that apartment so we are not just stuck in the living room, but we can walk down the corridor, go into the bedroom, into the kitchen. So that there is that kind of solidity to it that I hope makes sense visually.

This version of the play is a bit less discursive then the stage version is. On stage, I think that we are more tolerant of people being digressive in their conversation. Because lets face it, this play is essentially a series of conversations between two intelligent, complex women. And on stage I think that we may indulge them a little bit more than we might on camera. And the other kind of work that I did here was transitional. We can use a single camera to show different activities and to show passage of time in unique ways that can only be done in this medium.

Appropriating Delmore Schwartz
The fact that Schwartz was a first-generation American Jew interested me a great deal. His issues of identity and the immigrant experience in New York I found very rich, with a kind of romantic view of his unfulfilled potential. As Collected Stories evolved and I was placing Ruth in a very specific milieu of the literary scene in New York in the '50s, Schwartz came to life for me.

I decided rather than fictionalizing him I would use him as this iconic figure of a faded Jewish intellectual life in New York. He is very present in this play. And I decided, why fictionalize that? Why not deal with this man who was a notorious womanizer? It's possible that Ruth Steiner could have had an affair with Schwartz had she really lived. So that it placed her in this very compelling setting that he figured in, and I was quite thrilled to pay homage to him in this way.  [ Next Page ]

 
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