Q&A With Vinessa Shaw
Shaw is earning praise for her portrayal of a simple Brooklyn girl pulled into a love triangle with a brooding Joaquin Phoenix and a tantalizing Gwyneth Paltrow.
Have you ever been in a situation where you were dating two people at once?
No. Well, in the dating process, you can easily be doing that, but never when you are seriously like – the other person doesn’t know about the other, and you’re freaking out, because you have to tell one or the other. I’ve never been in that situation. That sounds like a nightmare.
Do you want to talk about your impression of your own character in the movie, and how you approached her?
My character, Sandra, is the sweetest girl ever. She doesn’t have a mean bone in her body and is completely genuine, and that’s why I fell in love with her. Playing her was such a pleasure, because she’s not a typical woman. She doesn’t question where he [her boyfriend, Joaquin Phoenix’s character Leonard] is all the time. Like, if I were at a New Year’s party and my boyfriend wasn’t there, I’d have a fit. But she’s just by herself with her mom, and has a real relaxed quality about her, and in Leonard, and in his ability to come around, and being dedicated to her. I kind of marvel at her ability to be so stable.
“If I were at a New Year’s party and my boyfriend wasn’t there, I’d have a fit.”
Are you happy about where this movie is taking your career? Is it pushing you in another direction?
Yeah, I was so happy to get this part. It was amazing to get this kind of opportunity. I think James is kind of old school that way as a filmmaker. He just does what he wants to do, and creates the film he wants to create, and casts the actors he wants, and the characters he has. And it seems straightforward to anybody who’s not in the film business, but there are a whole lot of complications that go into casting a movie, so I really appreciate him just enjoying my work and wanting to put me in this film. And it was pretty simple. I didn’t have any complicated, five million auditions.
There still is the actual process you have to do of auditioning. But I think auditioning just makes people feel more insecure. I highly doubt any director who sees people auditioning feels any better about their decision, because I think it confuses the point. Most people, they have their work, and you should be able to see their work and choose from there. James and a few other directors I know work that way, but it is a rarity.
I want to talk a little bit about working with Joaquin Phoenix. Have you heard this whole thing about him retiring? Do you think that’s true, and does it upset you, having worked with him?
If it’s true, I definitely would be upset, because he’s such a great actor, and the community would miss such a great actor as he. But I hope if it is true, that whatever he wants to do would probably make him happy, and that any arena he goes into will fulfill him.
Did you all get along well? What was getting to know Gwyneth and Joaquin like?
I didn’t meet Gwyneth Paltrow until the film premiered in Cannes. She’s lovely, and I enjoyed meeting her that one time.
Like the two lovers who never met.
Yeah, and I think it worked that way. It probably helped for Joaquin, and for James, and well as for me.
And with Joaquin, when you were getting into your characters, did you discuss it, or did you sort of just jump right in?
We jumped right in. The first scene I had to do was the café scene, which is right in the middle of the movie, right in the middle of our relationship. It was the first day, and I hadn’t met Joaquin until that moment we were on set. And we talked a little bit, but it was the first time I’d worked with James, so I had to do this middle-of-the-feeling, middle-of-the-movie scene, so that was definitely jumping in. There wasn’t any winding up at all. Didn’t have any rehearsals or preparation for that, but for better or for worse, I think it worked out.
Now that you did this movie with Gwyneth Paltrow, and Joaquin Phoenix, do you think people take to you differently? Have you noticed when people in LA talk to you they’re a little more…?
Well, in some ways, people are even still waiting until it comes out. People are that fickle. They’re like, “Well, what is number one last week? Well, that person we should put in this movie.” So it’s very fickle, even up to the very last breath you take. Even at the moment of success.
I think the movie is very timeless, though. It’ll age well. The acting is so good, it’s a great kind of movie to have done.
Yeah, I think so too. I think James [Gray], because he is a sort of timeless character himself, as a director -- all the movies he loves are ‘70s movies, and he’s very old school in the way he casts, lights, everything. He really respects good filmmaking. I remember him saying, “They don’t make films for my dad anymore.” You know, films that his dad can go and fall in love with, and engage in, real story and heart, and I think that’s what this movie brings.