Movie Mom
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I really like “How I Met Your Mother,” and am delighted that older episodes are running in syndication.  But it is jarring to see that background shots have been updated to insert new advertising material.  NPR’s Monkey See blog reports that a billboard in one of the episodes has been digitally altered to insert an ad for the new (and awful) movie, Zookeeper. Marc Hirsh writes

The general practice isn’t new, but there’s something about this particular example that’s especially irksome, and not just because it’s been done in the service of a Kevin James talking-gorilla movie.

He points out that this is particularly annoying in the context of HIMYM, which is always so explicitly time-specific.

More than most sitcoms, Mother has a rather explicit time frame. How explicit? Well, the very first line of the episode is, “Kids, in the spring of 2007…” So it’s not an ideal candidate to layer in an advertisement for a movie released in July 2011, is what I’m saying.

I understand that advertisers are frustrated because audiences skip commercials by clicking the channel or fast-forwarding on TIVO.  But the answer can’t be intrusive ads and product placement that distract us from the story, especially retroactively.

Lisa See is the author of literary novel and book club favorite Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, the story of a deep and loving but sometimes conflicted friendship between two women in 19th century China.  She spoke to me about what inspired her about women’s relationships and about how the story had to change when it was adapted for the screen.  The movie opens today in some cities and and expands over the next few weeks across the country.

First, tell me what you think of the movie based on your book.

I really enjoyed the process.  Of course I was nervous the first time I saw it but I really loved the movie.  The part that is very true to the book is absolutely true to the book.  The readers who read it will recognize certain scenes and characters and certainly all the emotions I had included.  And there’s a modern element that has been added.  It was not a part of my original book but it is a parallel story of friendship that I think will make viewers think about their own friendships.   There are these two stories of different aspects of friendship that I think are pretty powerful.

Any adaptation of a book to a movie is a big move from the internal to the external and the addition of the modern story was a way to do that. What do you think the modern-day friendship story added?

That story is a little different, more a story of sacrifice in friendship and the consequences of sacrifice.  What I really liked about the modern story in comparison to the original story set in the past is that it takes place in Shanghai right now, today.   This is one of the biggest, most important cities now on the planet but one many people don’t know about.  They were able to film in certain places where you and I would never be able to get to.  For example there’s a nightclub scene.  The club is called Shelter because it is in an old bomb shelter underneath the city of Shanghai.  I thought, that’s so cool, I just love that, and how the old parts of the city are being torn down as all this modern life is going on.

Sometimes with Chinese stories, it can seem so much about this past, like costume drama or kung fu.  But this combines a little of both, not just in the past but a continuum that brings these people right up to the present.  Certainly now China is a global economic superpower and it is interesting to see that and Shanghai in particular in a way that has not really been seen in a film before.

How did you get interested in the issue of foot-binding and the ancient notion of laotong, or “old sames” to describe the deep and sustaining friendship between women — and are those two connected?

I had reviewed a book for the LA Times on the history of foot-binding. And in that book there was a three or four-page mention of a secret language.  And I thought, how could that exist and I didn’t know about it?  How could it exist and we all didn’t know about it?  So often you hear that in the past there were no women writers, no women historians, there were women but supposedly they didn’t do anything.  But here was an example of something women had invented and used.  They had kept a secret for a thousand years.  I was completely obsessed.  But as I was doing the book and as I was doing the research I knew that I could not really write about this language and the relationships these women had without including foot-binding.  It was part of why this even came about.  It was a combination of illiteracy in men’s writing and the isolation caused by foot-binding that caused these women to first invent the secret language and then use it.  This allowed them in a sense to fly out of their rooms, reach across the fields and find other women with whom they could connect, and how important that is for all women, whether in the past or in the United States today.  We all have a need for friends or a friend with whom we can connect.

Both the ancient and the modern story in the movie are about friends who were pretty much assigned to each other.  That seems different from our American notion of finding our own friends based on shared interests and perspectives.

Aren’t you thrown together by circumstance when you become friends?  You’re in the same kindergarten or dorm or you work together or your kids are in the same class?  They’re real circumstances, not artificial, but that’s how you meet.  I know it’s in the book but in the film as well, that whole cultivation of a friend.  Maybe you’re supposed to be friends and maybe you’ve just met them and would like to be friends but what is interesting is how you cultivate someone to become a friend.  It is a kind of a courting, I suppose.

These friendships in the movie are so close.  Is it possible to have that kind of closeness without impinging on your other relationships — your romantic relationship, your family?

You will tell your best friend things that you wouldn’t tell your boyfriend or your husband or your mother or your children.  That doesn’t impinge on those relationships.  It’s just different, a different kind of intimacy.  The downside of that closeness is that it can leave you open to betrayal — just like any relationship.

Bryce Dallas Howard

On playing the movie’s villain, Hilly:

“I literally don’t want to look at it – she’s such a terrible person.  What’s interesting when you start doing a role is at first the character is really shocking.  But then you play the character 18 hours a day and I’m like – look, I have long hair!”


“It’s really fun to be such a terrible character and the feeling on set is so joyful and we’re having such a wonderful experience together.  The book and the script is the same way — It’s like a salacious read and really juicy and it does at moments get really quite heavy.  But Tate has created this environment on set of making everyone feel really playful so that in those moments when it’s really intense and obviously incredibly loaded given our history as a country we don’t fall into this lull as actors – oh, my god, this is too much.  For that reason, normally a character like this I would not be able to sleep at night, but because of the feeling Tate’s created on set when she’s evil it’s more fun than it is scary.’

On the Southern accent:

“Nadia the dialect coach has been really specific and has recorded people whose dialects were pure according to that time period.  It’s a mishmash of a bunch of different recordings.  It’s really fun and I love it and look forward to and enjoy it but really appreciate and need the support of a dialect coach.  I wouldn’t know where to begin in terms of the nuance.  The only other time I’ve done a Southern accent, I played a character in the 1920’s from Memphis – there are some similarities but also some distinct differences.”

On finding a way to make the villain a real character:

“She’s a duplicitous character, there’s always that duality.  Someone gave me some great advice about the character.  I was doing more of an arch-villain at first.  She said, ‘You have to protect these women in this time in all its devastating honesty.’  Most women were definitely not like Hilly.  She’s a particular person.  It’s important to play that she’s not a two-dimensional character.  She believes in certain things.  Obviously, it’s not only misguided, it’s evil.  But there is an origin for her beliefs.  To not just play this crazy character, it’s important to understand the psychology behind it.”

On her research:

“The research that I did was fascinatingly personal.  My mom was raised a lot in the South and when she was growing up, she was born in the 50s so in the 60s and 70s she was at times ostracized and called a Northerner.  She actually started reading The Help and had to put it down because it was so intense for her.  She’s picked it up again and she’s like, ‘It’s such a good book but I can’t read it before bed.  I can read Stephen King before bed and Anne Rice before bed, but this is too intense.’”


Emma Stone

On her connection to her character:

“Skeeter and I have a lot more in common than I would care to admit.  I’m not as brave as she is in what she is taking on.  But I do understand being a maybe a little different than your peers.  Everyone’s gone through that.  I like that she isn’t a martyr and the lessons she learns.  I love this girl so I am doing the best I can to accurately bring her to life.”

On what she gets from shooting on location:

“We’re lucky enough to be shooting in the South, which is so great.  Being surrounded by Southerners and hearing their stories and watching civil rights history like Eyes on the Prize or books about Jim Crow that kind of helped me with the back story as far as the time period.  But as far as being in the South we are so lucky that we’re in Mississippi because I never knew what the real feeling of being in the South was like, the kind of secrecy, the two sides there are to everybody.  We’re in a small town.  Everyone’s been so nice and so welcoming.  They also know everything that’s going on.  They know if I had someone over to my house last night!  It really informs what’s going on in the movie.  The secrecy required for something that’s illegal at the time is – I now understand so much more how quickly word travels in a small town in the South.  It’s good to know what it’s like.”

On the relationship of her character to her frenemy, Hilly:

“Bryce has been pretty note-perfect so far.  It’s really important to Tate to establish that Hilly and Skeeter were best friends and really did love each other.  And they really do love each other underneath it all but they haven’t spent a lot of time together for the past four years.  And in those four very formative college years their opinions on things greatly differ and it becomes more apparent now that Hilly is married and has kids.  It’s easy for me because the way she’s playing it has been so fantastic.  She can switch from sweet as pie to just awful in a heartbeat.  She’s figured out the balance really well and it’s my job to react to whatever mood Hilly’s in.”

On being in a women-centered story:

“Everyone is here to make the same movie and no one’s come with an ego – when that’s the case and its women, I don’t want to sound all girl power here but it’s been a nice empowering environment to be in.  And Tate’s keeping a calendar of when who is going through any hormonal times, he’s surrounded by nine emotional actress females.”