Neighbors who become lifelong friends often believe they know everything about each other, and how to handle every dilemma that they’re all forced to face with each other. But when a personal scandal involving the families unexpectedly and suddenly occurs, everyone is forced to reexamine their lives and what happiness really means to them. That’s certainly the case in the new dramedy romance ‘The Oranges,’ which is set to be theatrically released on October 5. The film daringly explores what happens when a surprisingly and personal connection between two members of the families forms, and throws everyone else’s happiness into disarray.
‘The Oranges’ follows married couples and neighbors David and Paige Walling (played by Hugh Laurie and Catherine Keener) and Terry and Cathy Ostroff (portrayed by Oliver Platt and Allison Janney), who live on Orange Drive in suburban New Jersey. Their comfortable existence goes awry when the Ostroff’s prodigal daughter, Nina (played by Leighton Meester), who recently broke up with her fiancé, Ethan (portrayed by Sam Rosen), returns home for Thanksgiving after a five-year absence. Instead of developing a romantic interest in the Walling’s son Toby (played by Adam Brody), which would please both families, Nina develops a romantic interest in David.
When the emotional development between Nina and David grows, everyone’s lives are interrupted, particularly the Walling’s daughter Vanessa (portrayed by Alia Shawkat), Nina’s childhood best friend. The consequences of the affair soon break apart both families in unexpected ways. But it also leads everyone to reassess their lives, and reconsider what it means to be happy.
‘The Oranges’ director, English filmmaker Julian Farino, along with Laurie, Keener, Platt, Janney, Brody and Shawkat, all participated in a press conference recently at New York City’s Crosby Hotel, to speak about shooting the movie. The filmmaker and the cast discussed, among other things, how previously working together on other projects helped them act together in the film; what attracted them to the script; and how the themes and morals of the story could have taken place anywhere in the world.
Question (Q): Adam, can you talk about your upcoming projects for this year? You have three other films besides ‘The Oranges’ set to come out.
Adam Brody (AB): I do have a few things coming out this year. However, ‘The Oranges’ has been a long time coming. Julian, was I the first cast in this?
Julian Farino (JF): I’m sorry to say that you were not. (laughs) But you were the only person I had in mind for your part.
AB: I feel as though I’ve been on this for three years. So it’s great this is finally coming out. I’m excited to be here.
Q: Julian, were there any thoughts of casting Alia as Oliver’s daughter? There’s more of a resemblance between them.
JF: You have to go through the essence of the parts and the characters. Vanessa was always intended for Alia. She had the intelligence and the point of view of Vanessa.
I did have maps of where everybody fits with their likenesses. Once we had all the correct characters in place, we worked towards making the characters feel as though they have history. The friendships feel as though they go back 25 years. When you have a half day of rehearsal, it’s not that easy. That’s what the actors brought.
Q: Many of the actors have interests in music and photography. Did any of that seep over into the film?
JF: I haven’t had that music question yet, but I quite liked their music on set. But there weren’t any party scenes led by their music, except for the caroling scenes.
Q: For the musicians in the film, what do you think of the soundtrack?
Hugh Laurie (HL): Adam, what do you think of it?
AB: I’m not actually up to date on it. (laughs)
HL: Thanks for being honest on my behalf, too. (laughs)
JF: The Atlantic City montage was the hardest to create the music for. It was supposed to be celebratory of Hugh and Leighton, but at the same time, have a bigger picture shadowing. There’s an enormous amount of varying opinion on that.
The song playing during the montage was actually written for the movie. That was a big moment, because we didn’t have that piece of music during the premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was a very last minute debate on the song choice. We had something I liked, but it didn’t connect on an emotional level. We had Def Leppard driving the whole movie at that point.
Q: For the actors, what drew each of you to the film, both with the rest of the cast and the script?
Allison Janney (AJ): When I originally read the script, I thought it was a crazy thing to happen to two families. I liked the character development as they tried to navigate through the events. Then with Julian and the rest of the cast, it was a no brainer for me.
JF: Maybe Hugh should answer that, because he has an interesting character.
HL: Yeah, I have an interesting character. I think we all shared the same response. I read the script, and thought it was beautifully done and very funny.
But I also thought it took people’s lives and feelings very seriously. It wasn’t done in a way that was condescending. It was very humane, I thought, and it was a very thin line to tread. I thought Julian executed it with elegance and grace.
It is very tricky. It can either be a ha ha ha portrayal, or a respectful portrayal, of relationships and consequences. But I thought it was beautifully done.
Of course, when they brought up the other actors names, you begin to salvatate in a slightly obscene fashion. It’s an enormous thrill to be a part of it.
Oliver Platt (OP): We all seem to agree on this. There seems to be a wonderful tension between how people think they should respond to an event like this, and then how they actually do. It’s done in a very mysterious, but believable, way.
The story’s also set in a time of year where everyone’s under pressure to be humane and civil to each other, because it’s the holidays. What better environment to launch this grenade, and watch the consequences.
This is also a terrible and morally wrong thing in our culture, and I believe in many other cultures. There’s how you think you should respond, and then how you actually do respond.
To me, the brilliance of the script is that it happens on page 30, instead of page 90, because it’s actually about the consequences. It’s about what happens to this little community created by these two families. It’s about how these mysterious things occur in their lives.
Catherine Keener (CK): We had a really fine time together. I care a lot about everyone here, and I know they do for me. It was really ideal, and seeing the film, you can’t hide that. That’s all in the cast, and Julian did a very careful job with that.
Q: The character development was established very well. Has anyone in the cast drawn on your past experiences, or anyone you actually know, for motivation for your characters while performing?
AJ: I don’t know, I haven’t had any similar experiences (laughs). But it was fun just to imagine if something like that happened. My character, Cathy, is controlling, and something like this made her plethoric to live through that.
CK: I’ve been in this situation, and I think we all have. We’ve been caught in something where it comes crashing. That’s the feeling I’ve had a lot on this movie. We learn that we’ll come up again. No matter what, another day’s going to happen. Yesterday’s past, and everything will be okay. I’ve had that experience.
JF: This is for you exclusively, but I’m not from New Jersey. (laughs) The whole reason for me (for doing the film), I thought the subject matter in the States might be a tricky concept. As an outsider coming to America, and experiencing life here for seven years now, experiencing different morals and values from Europeans, I thought the story might rub people the wrong way.
But the point of the story really is about forgiveness and frailty and weaknesses, and being able to transcend those things. That’s the whole heart of the movie. People who may object to the movie and its concepts are the ones you want to hit in a funny way.
It’s a general view, not very specific. I had no family issues like this. But that’s what made sense to me.
Q: It seems as though no one was scared off by the subject matter or its challenges. But since several members of the cast have previously worked together, did that make it easier to work together overall? Hugh, you specifically worked with Leighton on a couple episodes of ‘House’ in 2006.
HL: I think it was a terrific help. Also, I knew that we could do it-we could work together and play scenes together. I liked Leighton a lot. She’s a hoot, we had a very good time doing it.
We frame a set of circumstances that are actually less difficult to digest than a film from 50, 60 years ago. It’s a strange thing when you reach that point, particularly in a story that’s so humane and compassionate. No one’s acting malevolently, or seeking to exploit. These are the great waters of the human heart.
To tell stories of endless human perfection is dull and impossible. I think it’s the other way around, you’re drawn to the imperfection and the mistakes that human beings make. Particularly mistakes that are made out of good intentions, or at least kind intentions.
But it isn’t to say this is of no consequence. This is one of the things that attracted us all to the script. The consequences are taken very seriously and respectively. I think the characters are treated with respect.
But I absolutely agree that having Leighton on two episodes of ‘House’ helped for the film. We worked together for a few weeks, and that was an enormous help. But I’m sure if we hadn’t known each other, we would have jumped in and somehow make it work.
OP: I think you could put it in another way, that the filmmakers don’t editorialize. They don’t ask you to root for one character or another, or one particular behavior. They’re laying it out there. The characters are in this little happy community, and watching it as it happens.
**SPOILER ALERT:** There’s isn’t any sort of happy ending. The film ends in my favorite kind of way-suspended and ambiguous, but somehow satisfying. It’s very truthful. This movie doesn’t advocate for anything, except for like what Hugh said, humanity. **END SPOILER ALERT**
CK: What’s unique about the characters’ situation is that they’re all so tight. That was helpful.
JF: I didn’t know who knew who beforehand. I had seen the episode of Hugh and Leighton together, and I thought they could be great for the movie. I didn’t know there was history between everyone else.
But it became the job of the cast to jump in and try to engineer closeness and history and chemistry. But it’s great that they already had that on some level. That’s to the credit of the cast, they made it believable.
Q: Allison and Oliver, was it easier to work together on the film, since you previously worked together on ‘The West Wing?’
AJ: When I heard that Oliver was going to be in it, I said yes. We had fun together on ‘The West Wing.’ I know he has a sense of playfulness, and he’s very easy to be around and have fun with. With the relationship between the two characters, I knew he was going to make it more exciting.
It definitely helped, because we had a common ground we came in on. We had a mutual love and respect for each other. It was easy playing a married couple that was ignoring each other. (laughs)
OP: Yeah, it always helps when you know each other. When you like a person like Allison, that affects it tremendously as an actor. It helps to create the illusion that you’ve been living together all this time.
I also give Julian credit for creating an environment on set that brings out the best in people, and I really don’t think you can teach this to a director. It’s playful, but constructive and fluid and charged. It was a really delightful way to work every day.
Our doors were always open to each other. Hugh had his piano, and was playing his jazz. We took our clothes off, and really lived the utopian existence. (laughs)
Q: Julian, why wasn’t the movie shot in New Jersey? Did you want to shoot it there?
JF: It was shot in New Rochelle (in upstate New York), actually. That was due to production, money and budget, and what you can allow and where you can be. New York has tax breaks.
The main thing for me was to create something that was visually believable, to be a New Jersey story. That’s the only thing I was concerned about. I didn’t want the houses to be too big. I didn’t want it to look like it was a story about rich people.
I wanted it to be welcoming and comfortable and warm. I wanted to find two houses where that relationship between the two families was practically possible. Of course, the first thing I did when we first started this was to go to West Orange. But it didn’t work out, and we ended up in New Rochelle.
CK: It was perfect proximity, and was perfectly laid out and made sense. You could see when everyone was coming home, and it so supported the story. The logistics of the location were perfect.
JF: Yeah, it was perfect to have two complete houses that we took over, and the rooms that we could shoot in. You always try to shoot with windows in the back, looking at the other house, to show these two families are completely locked together.
Q: Julian, can you talk about the inclusion of the national charity into the film?
JF: It was just a feature of the script. If anything, I encouraged (screenwriters) Jay (Reiss) and Ian (Helfer) to write a little more about it. It was a little eccentric, and it allowed Keener’s character to grow, when you don’t know what’s happening to you.
Making the movie, this was a very easy cast to direct and embrace. I remembering saying, a lot happens in the present tense and perspective. It’s not dark and brooding. You don’t always know what’s happening to you. We really tried to keep it alive, and support the story.
Keener’s character is in the depths of despair, and sees the charity on the street. It really doesn’t mean anything at that moment. But the character travels over the course of the story. I love that this bad thing happens, but the character ends up in Africa, which wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
It showcases the message of the movie, that you don’t know where you’re going to travel. An apparent disaster can leave to progress and improvement and redemption.
Q: Julian, do you think this movie could have taken place in England or anywhere else in Europe? What would have been the adjustments to the script?
JF: We do comedy in England as well, you can ask Hugh. (laughs) With this topic, I think we could have done it elsewhere. For me personally, it was always meant to be suburbia anywhere.
The point of the story was to be as universal as possible. We all know of a friend we grew up with, because our parents were best friends. As the years go on, there’s something that takes you apart.
With the mother-daughter relationships, there’s the smothering mother everywhere. There’s always the dads who are best friends. The dynamics were universal to me.
I created the story in suburban New Jersey, where the film was set, but it could have been suburban anywhere. For me, it was suburban, because the values weren’t urban. The film’s not dark or edgy, so it became suburban. There was a lightness of spirit.
Q: One of the most intriguing things in the film was Vanessa’s reaction to her father. Can you talk about the preparation that went into that part of the story?
Alia Shawkat (AS): I thought it was strange that she’s the narrator. It was a weird choice for someone who’s not necessarily at peace of mind, at least naturally. It was interesting.
She was just kind of reacting, as we all are in the film. She kind of separates herself from everybody. I didn’t really prepare too much, I just tried to make her real and funny.
JF: I think there had to be a love between the two of you. It was natural human behavior. The film also had that generosity about human beings. There was a terribly fractured moment between the characters, and Hugh had to come out loving.
I found it interesting that the one who had the least amount of consequences was the narrator. But by the end of the movie, you understand this is a critical moment in Vanessa’s life as well. To me, it’s sort of smart.
Q: Allison, we’ve seen you win a lot of awards on stage, in a variety of different roles. In the film, you’re practically doing Lucille Ball. Can you talk about how this was different for you, in terms of acting approach?
AJ: It’s all the same for me. There’s sure to be some kind of difference, but whatever I’m doing, it comes from the same place. I’m grounding it in reality. I’ve never considered myself a particularly funny person, I’m just myself.
I know what makes people funny-their behavior. Basically, it’s just watching my mother (laughs), and the things she does. It’s so hilarious to me, because things are so important to her. I’m like, why do you care if there’s a hot towel rack in the bathroom? The things she thinks are so important, and she invests herself in, are hysterical to me.
I try to invest into every character I play whatever they’re passionate about, and what’s important to them. I do the same for comedy and tragedy.
Q: One of the main themes in the movie is what happiness means to us. Was there any discussion about your passions besides acting, and what you took from the movie?
AB: I don’t recall talking about it with anyone. But speaking for myself, I really enjoy company and making movies. Not to keep it too on point, but this was a really fun time. But in terms of extracurriculars, music is really fun.
CK: I learned that whatever’s happening is going to pass, and the good moments will be remembered and treasured. But you can’t freeze time, and I think that feeling is very comforting to me. I’m happy that I understand that.
Written by: Karen Benardello