Caught in Annette

Annette Bening, Arie Posin, Ed Harris and Annette Insdorf discuss The Face Of Love.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

The Face Of Love - Annette Bening, Ed Harris, director Arie Posin with Annette Insdorf at the Paley Center For Media
The Face Of Love - Annette Bening, Ed Harris, director Arie Posin with Annette Insdorf at the Paley Center For Media Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

The Face Of Love is the story of a man and his double and questions what it is that we love in another's face. Annette Bening plays Nicki, a woman whose job it is to stage houses in Los Angeles so that they seem lived in for prospective buyers. Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo casts long shadows over the scenery and director Arie Posin, with deft strokes, uses them as mirror and deceit. "In pursuit of the past" is more than the title of an art exhibition. Ed Harris plays a double role (husband Garret and lover-painter Tom); he is Kim Novak to Annette Bening's James Stewart. A neighbor played by Robin Williams takes over for Barbara Bel Geddes in the unrequited love department. "I love the way you look at me," Tom says to the woman whose heart looks through him. Why do we love someone? The profound questioning and the honest, if not very pretty answers in Posin's story are structured like recurring dreams. Phantoms are Nicki's business and invade her private life when she, five years after her husband's death, encounters a man in the garden of a museum who is the spitting image of the dead man she mourns.

Annette Bening: "We don't have to make people right, we just have to make them true."
Annette Bening: "We don't have to make people right, we just have to make them true." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

At the Paley Center For Media in New York, The Face Of Love director Arie Posin and Ed Harris were caught between two Annettes, co-star Annette Bening and the evening's moderator Annette Insdorf.

Arie Posin introduced the screening and let the audience in on the personal background to his film, which, he said, "was inspired by something that happened to my mom." A few years after his father had died, his mother told Arie the following story he recounted: "I was at the museum, it actually happened at LACMA [Los Angeles County Museum of Art] where we set the scene in the movie. She said, 'I was at a crosswalk and I saw this man coming towards me, who looked like a perfect double of your father. He was a carbon copy.' So I asked, what did you do? She said, 'I had my glasses in my hands and I started to put them on and then I didn't.' I asked 'Why not?' And she said, 'I knew it wasn't your father…. But it felt so nice to look at him. Then he blew past me and cars honked and the lights changed.' I found that story very moving and eventually started to write about it.

Following the screening Annette Insdorf started off the conversation by asking Annette Bening what drew her to the project.

Annette Bening: My first reaction is always emotional, not intellectual. I found [the script] very intriguing, unusual, original. I also knew Ed Harris was going to be in it.

Annette Insdorf (to Ed Harris): Since your character in this film is a painter, did you draw on your experience of having played Jackson Pollock and directed a film about him? Did that help you?

Ed Harris: It didn't hurt. It's just a kind of source of comfort, really. [The Face of Love] is also a love story and I hadn't done a love story in quite a while.

Annette Bening talked about her choice of roles and working with directors.

AB: In movies, you're really there for the director. It's a director's medium. You have an investment in them. That's when you can really do good work. You're giving something to them, they cut it up. They choose what's good. So you have to give them with abandon. So much of movie making are takes that aren't good. Just like great athletes in sports they have to fail all the time. You watch a great golfer? Golfers have to know how to fail constantly and still try to do it.

Ed Harris: "Even my wife said I pulled it off. Well, that was real tough."
Ed Harris: "Even my wife said I pulled it off. Well, that was real tough." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze: There are of course a lot of echos from Vertigo. Did James Stewart and Kim Novak inspire your performances - genders reversed?

Ed Harris: Nooo.

AKT: You didn't feel like Kim Novak, being chased and dressed?

Annette Bening (to Harris): You don't think?

EH: What?

AB: That James Stewart inspired my performance?

EH: Oh! I guess I'm Kim.

AB: Yeah, Kim got in there a little bit.

Arie Posin: Vertigo is one of my favorite movies. It's interesting where it came into the process, because it had happened. When we first started working on the script, Matthew McDuffie, my co-writer and I, as we were in the process, it occurred to us one day there are some parallels here. So we went back and looked at Vertigo and thought, wow, there's a museum here, there's the double over there, there's a crime and it's happening intentionally that Jimmy Stewart is being fooled and has to uncover it. The tone of it there is a thriller, whereas here the suspense is mixed with romance in a different way. But there were certainly echoes, that's why I put a Vertigo poster in the movie. I wanted to be very open with influences. I don't remember who said, if you're going to steal, steal from the best. Although, in this country we don't call it stealing, we call it homage. We use a French word, I don't know what that says about us. Yeah, it was certainly on my mind. Part of why we wanted to shoot in LA. as well. San Francisco played such a big role in [Vertigo] and we all live in Los Angeles. I've fallen in love with Los Angeles and I wanted to show the romantic beautiful LA which I haven't seen in movies in a long time.

Annette Insdorf: Specifically the scene where he puts on the suit that obviously [the dead husband] Garrett wore, that was the moment where I felt Vertigo most profoundly.

AP: The challenge of this movie was always - can we get the audience to suspend their disbelief? That Ed is playing two people who look so much alike, nearly identical. And I say nearly, because we did things with makeup and also Ed did things in terms of his posture and how he moved.

They go on to talk about the challenges in making the movie.

AP: Every scene has its own. I don't know if there's one scene more difficult than the others… She could never be only with this man… There's always going to be a third person in the room.

EH: The hardest scene for me was having just gotten out of the shower walking over to her saying "I could take a bath in the way you look at me."

Ed Harris to Annette Bening in The Face Of Love: "I could take a bath in the way you look at me."
Ed Harris to Annette Bening in The Face Of Love: "I could take a bath in the way you look at me." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AB: And you did it.

EH: Even my wife said I pulled it off. Well, that was real tough.

AB: It's sort of like childbirth. Movie making and acting. I try not to talk too much about that, the pain of it all. It doesn't seem like the right thing to do. I like really fighting for a character. I like the subjective nature of acting because it's not rational. It's like life in that way. We are all so flawed and I like that about acting because we don't have to make them right. We don't have to make people right, we just have to make them true. It doesn't always make sense. Generally, actually when you're getting to a place where what you're doing doesn't make complete sense then that's more like life. And movies that make perfect sense are generally not very interesting.

Though it was not at all necessary when working with Ed Harris, Annette Bening divulges an acting trick.

AB: What do you do when you have to play a scene with someone you can't stand? You have to play that you fall madly in love with someone? You may not only not have that feeling but quite the opposite feeling. I remember one of the acting teachers saying, well, you take the head of the person that's there and you remove it and you put the head of the person you're imagining on the person's [shoulders]. And you do it. That's your job. You only hurt yourself when you don't make it believable. That's called substitution in Stanislavski terms. When you have Ed Harris, you don't have to do that.

The Face Of Love opens in New York and Los Angeles on March 7.

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