Read our New York press conference interview with ‘Welcome to The Rileys’ director Jake Scott and actors Kristin Stewart (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1), James Gandofini and Melissa Leo at the Regency Hotel on October 18. They discussed what it was like to work together on an independent movie in New Orleans, and what attracted them to the script.
Question (Q): James, how did you figure out the back-story of your Southern accent for Indianapolis (where his character, Doug Riley, lives with his wife Lois, played by Leo)?
James Gandolfini (JG): It’s a mystery to me too!
Q: Was your character going through a mid-life crisis?
JG: I think he’s questioning things. I know I’ve reached an age where I question, how did I get here? For me, it’s mostly good. For him, it’s not what I expected, it’s not what the man expected. So I think he has to go back in his mind, and go somewhere and figure out what to do now. I think a lot of people do that. I think he takes the opportunity just to figure things out. Sometimes, you make choices, and you look back and wonder.
Melissa Leo (ML): When I, as his wife, heard him talking to me, I thought he made the move to Indiana and make an Indianan out of himself.
JG: Southern Indiana has a specific accent.
ML: It’s a really peculiar accent.
JG: It is.
Q: James, do you think there’s a part of Doug that blames Lois for the death of their daughter?
JG: Yeah, sure!
Q: For anyone in the cast, what surprised you most about making the film, and working with a Brit (Jake Scott)?
JG: How kind and smart and special the actors were, and how different he was from his uncle (director Tony) and his father (director Ridley). How smart she (Kristin) was. I don’t mean that in a bad way, I mean for a young girl. For a young woman, how together and how smart and how she’s doing this for the right reasons. How well we got along, and how wonderful it was, and how we got along. I don’t necessarily think acting is fun, but I had a really good experience on this.
ML: When I read the script, when you turn each page, and you think he’s going to sleep with that girl. But he never does!
JG: I was hoping that too!
Q: What surprised you, Kristen? Where those bruises real?
Kristen Stewart (KS): Yeah, I found that I got the bruises initially in rehearsal. I learned pole dancing, but you never really see that in the movie. It’s just for a second, and it’s in silhouette. It really hurts, and you don’t realize that of course it’s going to show. There were so many, but I wasn’t sure if you keep all of them. I think what surprised me the most was the fact that I was so unaware. I was walking down the street with my robe open and wearing fishnets, and not caring at all. I wasn’t scared. I had known about this for a while before it got up and running, and I’m glad that it took awhile to do so. I felt that I was old enough to do the part. If I wasn’t ready, I would have shied away from it too much. So it was shocking to find myself in situations like that and being completely fine with them.
Q: How old were you when you actually filmed it?
Q: This question is for Jake. You have music videos and documentaries previously. How is the transition to making a feature?
Jake Scott (JS): I’m used to music videos and TV commercials. I mean, it’s a very different process. They’re a shorter forum. Features are narratives, and videos and commercials are narratives of sorts. We show off a lot in music videos. Actors have a reputation. I think rock-n-roll bands, they’re more difficult. I’ve worked with the Rolling Stones, that’s difficult. These guys, they’re a dream. Jim and I, it was kind of rough in the beginning in rehearsals. He really does his homework, this guy. He said something to me in the rehearsal period, and I really listened to him. I’m glad I listened to it. I learned I should trust not only him, but all three and all the cast and know they’re there to do the work. I did that. I learned a lot doing that, and it changed me as a director. It actually made me realize I’m not as good of a director as I thought I was. I actually learned about directing working with these three. There were things I never knew before. I trusted Jim and Kristen and Melissa.
ML: And these two will concur with me that you’re a very good director.
Q: Kristen, you play a stripper. Can you talk about your preparation for that role?
KS: I went to my first strip club with this guy (points to Jake). Upon entering, the guy said “You have to come back later if you want a job.”
JS: This was in L.A. This was a nude strip club.
KS: He must have thought Jake was my pimp. It started there. You just literally think “I’m the luckiest kid from the valley.” It gave me the impression that the script was whole and real. But what do I know? He was really on me about that. He said “You’ve got to do some work before you’re able to do this.” He gave me a couple books that really helped me, like ‘Raised by Wolves’ was the one that really got me. There were some really candid stories. There was this guy who gave himself to a bunch of runaway kids in Hollywood. They really just let it all out. And you know, just pole-dancing, and stuff like that. But basically, we didn’t have that much time. It was really comfortable. It validated me, it made me feel like I had done enough for the part. But at the same time, everything was in the script. Luckily, when we started shooting, I felt as though I didn’t have to add a thing. It gave it justice. I didn’t have to add anything, it was already there.
Q: What was it like filming in New Orleans?
ML: After I worked with Jake and Jimmy and Kristen, I found myself back in New Orleans for an HBO show. Lois was never there before, and she didn’t particularly like being there. So they housed me in the Windsor Court, which has a gated drive, and this wall behind the gate. You never actually have to be in public. So they had a lovely young man that they hired to drive me, and he would come in and pick me up. He would take me to the grocery store. But half the time I isolated myself. I didn’t get to know New Orleans at all. That aided for my performance.
JS: I actually did what Jim suggested, I let the city kind of guide my decisions. I realized pretty early on that we could be geographically local. I find it exciting that it was a real city for these characters. The house was really near the restaurant where Lois and Mallory go for Po’Boys, and the strip club where Kristen works. New Orleanians are really hospital people to work with, and the crew was absolutely fantastic. It was probably one of the best crews I’ve ever worked with. The city speaks, so in the soundtrack, you hear the sounds of the ships and the freight trains, and it interrupts everything. The sound guys were getting frustrated, but these guys worked with it. There’s one scene in particular, when Doug first arrives, and they’re lying down in bed, you hear the train. Jims goes, “I like that sound,” and it just works. They just worked with that, and I let that be a character in the film.
Q: Jake has said you didn’t have a lot of rehearsals. James and Melissa, how did you establish you were a married couple?
JG: I like her. We just did it, she’s very professional. She’s very good looking, which helps! You’re from New York, right?
JG: Stuff like that helps. I enjoyed it, I think that stuff like that shows. New Orleans is an incredible city also, for its lack of rules and lack of regulation. That’s why you (Kristen) were able to walk down the streets like a stripper. The feel of the city helped.
ML: I loved working with Jimmy. I still have the wedding and engagement rings Lois wore. I wear them quite a bit. That likeability Jim has, it’s an amazing thing when you hit it off with a really terrific actor. You can really pretend. It was so easily done, it’s hard to find words for it.
Q: You all have a camaraderie. With a cast so small, working in a city so intimate, with just the three of you, what sort of family developed?
JG: Small films can do that. You’re working, and not out hanging out every day for 15 hours. There’s definitely a sense of family, working together.
ML: We were working but I know I’ll always have a mother’s love for Kristen, and a wife’s love for Jimmy. I’ll carry that for the rest of my days.
Q: Kristen, how was it being the youngest in the cast, and did you ever want Mallory to just give up and let them adopt her?
KS: You watch the movie, and that’s sort of what you want. When I was working, that was a far, far option from what would ever work. She hates herself, but they like her, so maybe their opinions change her.
Q: Kristen, do you have a process of coming out of a role? Especially going from playing Bella in ‘Twilight’ to playing Mallory back to shooting ‘New Moon.’
KS: No. The few movies I have done between the ‘Twilight’ movies have coincidentally been very different. I don’t want to totally shock everyone, but when something speaks to you, you have to do it. Also, I’m really lucky to have my cast in the series. As soon as we get back to set together, it just sort of happens. You always think it’s going to be hard to get back there, but it’s not. We’ve all wanted to tell the story for so long.
Q: Kristen, do you think Mallory would ever change?
KS: Mallory doesn’t think about what happens next. I hope she would continue to dance, but stop working. But I think she would keep doing it, that’s what she knows.
Q: Kristen, you give 100 percent of yourself into your roles. Do you carry Mallory with you?
KS: I think you have that with everything. It’s not just parts you play, it’s experiences, everything you do makes you who you are. Some of the most monumentus moments in my life has been in films. This one, more than normal. I think it had an effect on me.
Q: James, you played Tony Soprano for quite some time. How was it like going from that kind of father to this one? Did he influence Doug at all?
JG: No, he’s done. That went away pretty quickly for me.
Q: Kristen, your character in many ways was a mystery. What did you imagine her back-story was?
KS: Jake had a few ideas. They weren’t so defined, to be honest. It was just enough. There were a few things that he told me when we started the movie. One was that a lot of these girls’ stories are typical. A few things add up to being able to do that as a job. I sort of inserted a few little bits. I know where she’s from, I know that she’s not lying when she tells Doug where she’s from. But to really go into it would be really weird.
Q: Kristen, how does putting on the wardrobe help you get into character?
KS: It always helps. I don’t think a lot when I hear stripper. A lot of people have ideas on how they must be, but I really didn’t have any. I’d always imagined they’d be sexy, because that’s sort of their job. You would never want to take off the trench coat, but living in New Orleans, it’s hot. Everything helps, the makeup.
Q: James, what’s a dream role that you would want?
JG: Curly from ‘The Three Stogies.’
Q: What did you miss about your respective hometowns while filming in New Orleans?
JS: I missed my kids and my wife. Obviously you miss your family. I live in L.A. When you go on a long project like that, these guys are more experienced than I am, you are with a family though. I try to make my life there as much as my home life as possible. I rented a house there with the cameraman. I love to cook, and I had to cook. If you ate in the restaurants in New Orleans every day, you would come back looking very different. You miss some of the routines, actually.
KS: I tend to really offend people when I go, especially on this one. It was the first time I was really alone on a movie. I love stomping around the city, like it was mine, kind of like Mallory. I didn’t really miss much, I was having fun.
JG: I missed my wife and New York food. I had heartburn in New Orleans!
ML: I love working, and this movie was very happy times. My son’s now 23, and there’s no husband to worry about. So I very happily relocate wherever a film brings me.
Written by: Karen Benardello