Who could play Nikki, the character around whom this story revolved?
I needed someone authentic, someone who could remain sympathetic even while keeping this huge secret from a man who's falling in love with her, someone whom we could identity with utterly and completely. In short, I needed somebody great .
Well, is there any actress greater than Annette Bening?
Annette Bening makes me believe. Doesn't matter the where or the when or the why of the story. When I watch her, it's for real. She is an inspiring reminder of the power of fine acting. Yes, of course she'd be great for the part! But how to make that a reality?
This is one of the many instances when you realize how crucial it is to have a good producer.
I'm lucky to have two great producers.
Bonnie Curtis and Julie Lynn.
I like to call them my two mommies (even though we're much closer to brother and sisters!).
It turns out that Julie had already made a movie with Annette ("Mother and Child" directed by Rodrigo Garcia) . This made the next step easy. We sent Annette the script.
And then prayed to the movie gods.
Somehow, incredibly, in less than a week, I found myself sitting on the patio at the Chateau Marmont discussing the story with Annette Bening.
Annette has an amazing quality as a human being. Despite her fame, despite her success, despite all the accolades, she is a completely real person from the moment you meet her. I'm convinced this is her great gift, not only as an actress, but as a human being.
There's no pretense. Not on the screen. Not in life.
Within five minutes we were talking about our kids, our lives, our childhoods. And we talked about loss. The fear. The shock. The maddening pain. We all go a little crazy when we lose somebody so terribly close to us.
I'd found Nikki.
Ed Harris is a singular actor. There's nobody else like him. Masculine, intense, hardened. Deeply soulful and vulnerable just below the surface. An American through and through, and an artist. The only other actor I'd ever seen who combined these contrary forces so genuinely was Steve McQueen. But this was 2012, and Ed Harris is simply the greatest living heir to this unlikely combination. There's nobody better.
I'd written myself into a difficult position. From the earliest genesis of the story, I'd never pictured anyone else for the role.
I was in a panic.
What if I can't get him? What if he's not available? What if he doesn't like it?
We sent the script to Ed's agent, Rick Kurtzman at CAA, and prayed lightning would strike twice.
Unbelievably, I soon got a call. Ed wanted to meet.
A few days later I drove up the Pacific Coast to his house. Here's what it's like to meet Ed Harris for the first time.
He waves me into the driveway, shooing the dog out the way, instructing me to park next to a beat-up pickup in front of the garage. A minute later, we're inside.
"Just fixing myself a sandwich. You want a peanut butter and jelly?"
"No thanks. I just ate."
"How about coffee? I just ran out of fresh grounds with that last pot, but I could throw a cup in the microwave for you."
"That sounds good."
I take my coffee and meet him on the back deck. The waves of the Pacific crash silently far below us in the distance.
He asks me about the script, the idea, the character. He talks about art (his character in the script is a former artist), about love, about family. He talks about disappointment and hope. He's got this character between his teeth and we haven't even started pre-production yet.
Finally he leans forward. "Well, look. I'm interested. If you'll have me."
If I'll have you? I exhale. Relieved. I shake his hand and we promise to stay in touch.
It'll be well over a year before we've got the financing in place to start shooting. But I've got my lead cast and if I can hang onto them everything will be just fine.