Q&A with Catherine Keener of 'Synecdoche'

John Anderson
Newsday (MCT)

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Once considered the indie queen, actress Catherine Keener has become a ubiquitous presence in movies ranging from "Capote" to "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" to "Into the Wild," to "Synecdoche, NY," the directorial debut of Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind").

Keener also appeared in "Being John Malkovich," Kaufman's big-screen debut, and with "Synecdoche," follows him further through the portal between commercial cinema and something else - something disconcertingly, touchingly surreal, about a director (Philip Seymour Hoffman) whose entire life is reduced to an act of theater.

Keener was being very supportive of her director - and what promises to be an audience-challenging movie - when she and John Anderson sat down in Beverly Hills.

Q. I'm not sure I heard correctly, but did Kaufman say he gave you an 856- page script?

A. I'm not sure that was literal, but it was a big, fat script. The first time I saw the film, it was four hours long, and I thought, "I can easily watch this for four hours" - that's how engrossed I was. It felt very much like a dream was made into a movie, and so I don't know - I was riding the wave of it. I was so interested in what was going on. It felt like everyone was singing out their dream with no boundaries.

Q. Your part - as the artist wife of Caden (Hoffman), who leaves him, and takes their daughter - wasn't that big on the page, but don't you sort of resonate throughout the film?

A. I didn't realize that was going to happen. I didn't know I'd be recalled so much, or that she instigates the trauma by which - and this is my perception - that the rest of Caden's life is informed by. Which happens with things that are traumatic. So yeah, my role was pretty small, but it felt like I had to hold that up for everyone else to keep going.

Q. Common wisdom says that parts in movies for women get scarcer as they go along, but you seem to be working more.

A. I guess, yeah. I'm in too many movies. (Laughs) I work a lot because I work in a lot of these smaller-budget movies. I don't make a lot of money, consequently, so I do have to work more often. But that's my choice - to seek jobs that don't make me want to kill myself after three months of hell. For me, there has to be a reason, for me to pull myself away from my family. Otherwise, I'd stay home and find a job.

Q. Telemarketing?

A. Something! (Laughs)

Q. I think of you as a New Yorker, but you're not anymore.

A. I moved to Santa Monica because it's kind of a slowed-down life. My son is 9; he doesn't know any famous people I know. Or he knows them and doesn't know they're famous. So he's grown up with an appropriate appreciation of what it is I do, and isn't dazzled by the other stuff. I didn't tell him about being an actor for so long - I must have some shame in it; if I were a I'd be showing him cameras, and I'd be doing this and that, so I had to really re-evaluate what I was hiding from him.

Q. Did you conclude what it was?

A. Fame. Such a premium is put on fame, a lot now more so than a lot of other things. But he's this young kid, and I should have trusted he didn't care about that stuff.

Q. Can you tell me about "The Soloist" (the upcoming Joe Wright movie about a homeless cellist, played by Jamie Foxx, and a reporter, played by Robert Downey Jr.)?

A. I've not seen the finished product, but I have great love and respect for Joe Wright, especially for how he choreographed this complex set of circumstances. We shot on Skid Row, in very difficult circumstances. We became friends with a lot of people who actually live there, got to know them well. Joe's a crazy, generous, kind person. I would say the same for Downey. The first day on set, we had this circle, where the actors were up front, and everybody else was around, all the denizens, and Downey, of course, sat in the middle, and when they got to him, he says, "I'm Robert Downey, cell block number ..." and they all just melted.

Q. You have a real affection for your directors.

A. Most of these directors, if they asked me to stand on my head for two hours, with no lines, I'd do it. Honestly. That's why I'm careful about who I work for. I really need a director. I think most actors do, and they feel they don't, but I do. I don't see the overall picture. I'm a hired gun. And I just want to hit the ball when it's my time up.





Learning to Take a Picture: An Interview With Inara George

Inara George is unafraid to explore life's more difficult and tender moments. Discussion of her latest music, The Youth of Angst, leads to stories of working with Van Dyke Parks and getting David Lee Roth's musical approval.


Country Westerns Bask in an Unparalleled Sound and Energy on Their Debut

Country Westerns are intent on rejecting assumptions about a band from Nashville while basking in an unparalleled sound and energy.


Rediscovering Japanese Director Tomu Uchida

A world-class filmmaker of diverse styles, we take a look at Tomu Uchida's very different Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji and The Mad Fox.


The Charlatans' 'Between 10th and 11th' Gets a Deluxe Edition

Not even a "deluxe" version of Between 10th and 11th from the Charlatans can quite set the record straight about the maligned-but-brilliant 1992 sophomore album.


'High Cotton' Is Culturally Astute and Progressive

Kristie Robin Johnson's collection of essays in High Cotton dismantle linear thinking with shrewdness and empathy.


Lianne La Havas Is Reborn After a Long Layoff

British soul artist Lianne La Havas rediscovers herself on her self-titled new album. It's a mesmerizing mix of spirituality and sensuality.


PC Nackt Deconstructs the Classics with 'Plunderphonia'

PC Nackt kicks off a unique series of recordings dedicated to creating new music by "plundering" unexpected historical sources such as classical piano pieces or chamber orchestra music.


Counterbalance 24: The Doors - 'The Doors'

Before you slip into unconsciousness, Counterbalance has put together a few thoughts on the Doors' 1967 debut album. It's number 24 on the Big List.

Reading Pandemics

Parable Pandemics: Octavia E. Butler and Racialized Labor

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, informed by a deep understanding of the intersectionality of dying ecologies, disease, and structural racism, exposes the ways capitalism's insatiable hunger for profit eclipses humanitarian responses to pandemics.


'Tiger King' and the Post-Truth Culture War

Tiger King -- released during and dominating the streaming-in-lockdown era -- exemplifies in real-time the feedback loop between entertainment and ideology.


GOD's 'God IV - Revelation' Is a Towering Feat of Theologically-Tinged Prog Metal (album stream)

GOD's God IV - Revelation is beautiful and brutal in equal measure. It's a masterful series of compositions. Hear it in full today before tomorrow's release.


Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.