Sometimes the only way people realize how important reconnecting with their family is is when they experience a devastating loss together. In the new film ‘Darling Companion,’ which was co-written by husband and wife filmmaking team Lawrence and Meg Kasdan, and directed by the former, the characters start to feel love again after rescuing an abandoned dog. When the dog becomes lost, his owners must learn to work together and communicate again in order to find him.
‘Darling Companion’ follows married couple Beth and Joseph Winter (played by Diane Keaton and Kevin Kline), who are dealing in their own separate ways with their two daughters, Grace (portrayed by Elisabeth Moss) and Ellie (portrayed by Lindsay Sloane), starting their own lives. With Joseph extremely involved with his career as a surgeon, Beth views him as self-indulgent. In order to fill the void of love she’s feeling, Beth rescues a dog she finds on the side of the road, and names him Freeway.
After Grace marries Sam (played by Jay Ali), the veterinarian who saved Freeway, at the family country cabin, her parents linger behind. Joined by Joseph’s sister, Penny (portrayed by Dianne Wiest); her new boyfriend, Russell (played by Richard Jenkins), who everyone feels in only taking advantage of her; Penny’s son Bryan (portrayed by Mark Duplass), who’s also a surgeon; and the cabin’s caregiver, Carmen (played by Ayelet Zurer), Beth and Joseph embark on a frantic search to find Freeway after he becomes lost while on a walk. In the process, everyone learns that family is the most important thing in life, and how to reconnect.
The Kasdans recently took the time to sit down for a roundtable interview at New York City’s Regency Hotel to discuss the process of writing and directing ‘Darling Companion.’ Among other things, the filmmakers spoke about what it was like reuniting with Kline for their sixth movie together, and the feelings of loss when their own dog was missing for three weeks.
Question (Q): Was it an easy process for a husband and wife to make a project like this, or was it a tug-of-war? What was the process like?
Meg Kasdan (MK): It was not difficult for us. We spent lots and lots of time together. Once we both committed to doing this, we had a really great time doing it together.
Lawrence Kasdan (LK): We had done another movie together, we had done ‘Grand Canyon’ together. It was a really satisfying experience. People always say, how does your marriage survive it? It isn’t like that at all, it’s really a fun, collaborative thing. I’ve written a lot of stuff alone, and it’s lonely and hard. I do it all the time, I’m doing it now. To collaborate with someone, which I’ve also done a lot, it makes the job more pleasant.
Q: Why were you inspired to put this film together?
MK: Well, we rescued a dog, and the dog was lost for three weeks in the mountains in Colorado. We had a real adventure searching for him for the three weeks. Eventually, we recovered him, and we still have him. He’s 14 years old now.
There were things that happened during that search that we felt maybe we could make a story out of those experiences. So it’s a fictionalized version of something that really happened to us.
LK: I was surprised, personally, over how upset I was over losing this dog. I knew I liked the dog. We had rescued the dog from a shelter. But I didn’t have any idea how deeply upset I would be at the thought that we had lost him.
We had a dog previously, and I think we were good owners. But it never happened, this sort of bonding. It had happened with this dog in a short time. I was shocked by it. The feelings were not any different than the feelings we had toward people. There’s a lot of resistance to that in the world.
A friend of ours who teaches literature at the University of Washington was telling us there’s a big debate in the academic community about if animals have souls. We thought, how can there be any doubt? It didn’t seem doubtful to us that a living creature has a soul. That was weird debate to me that it’s a big debate in academia.
Q: This is your first independent feature. What compelled you to go that route?
LK: Well, we wrote this movie, and the second we finished it, we knew it would never be made by a Hollywood studio. As you can see, there aren’t any Hollywood movies like this. There are good Hollywood movies. For 25 years, I was able to make them that way in the studio system, like ‘Body Heat’ and ‘The Accident Tourist,’ movies I don’t think I could make now. They’re just not interested in that level of movie, and that subject matter. I don’t think we could have ever made ‘Grand Canyon’ in this Hollywood system.
When we finished the script, we knew you can’t make a comedy that isn’t outrageous and over-the-top in the Hollywood system. If we wanted to get this made, it’s going to have to be independent.
Q: Lawrence, you’re particularly good with working with ensemble casts. When you’re writing a script, how do you keep all the characters in balance? You seemed to have brought that in to Hollywood with ‘The Big Chill.’
LK: I don’t think I brought that in. If you go back in the ’30s and ’40s, and see Leo McCary’s movies, they’re full of wonderful ensembles. The secondary characters are enormously important, which is all that interests me. Everyone who walks on screen has a life, even if they’re only on screen for a few minutes.
The problem I had with some movies is it’s the guy and his side-kick woman, she doesn’t even get to have a full character, and that’s all who gets to be real in the movie, and everyone is just in service to their plot. That’s not as interesting to me as these great old movies, where a guy could walk on for 30 seconds, and you go, I get it, he has a life.
Q: All of the characters were written so well in this. One of the best is the character that Richard Jenkins plays.
LK: He’s kind of irresistible, right? But it’s not us. Jenkins is irresistible in everything, he’s a great actor.
MK: You know, I think we all had this experience where someone enters your group who’s different, and you immediately have some preconceived ideas about them. You find out you’re dead wrong. I think that’s partly where it came from.
It was interesting, when Richard came to the movie set for the first time, he told us he connected to this character, because he felt that his mother was just like that character.
LK: When he says, why, do you think everything works out, he says yeah, I believe that. His mother is like that. He felt that in the most positive way that she was a hopeful, positive person.
I always think his character’s most like a dog in the movie. He’s up for it, and the great thing about dogs and pets is that they’re just there. A dog never says, how long are we going to be gone? I’ve got to be back.
Q: Why do you think that Hollywood is in such an unfortunate state that movies that are really dynamic can’t be made? Is there a way to come back from that, and go back to the way things were?
LK: I don’t think so. There may be long cycles in our culture, but everything’s going that way now. It has to do with the corporatization and the merchandizing of everything. There’s still great movies being made, but they’re not going to be made in the Hollywood system, probably.
There are going to be some good Hollywood movies, because some things they do do, they do great. I like a lot of those movies, and I grew up on adventure films. I wrote a bunch of action movies that worked. But, for the most part, what they’re willing to deal with in Hollywood has narrowed. It has to do with how well they sell cars and hot dogs and hamburgers and phones with the movie, instead of what’s the movie. A movie can’t exist on its own.
Q: How is your relationship with Kevin Kline been over the years? He has said he almost took the part without reading the script.
LK: Now, it’s a long, important relationship for both of us. I met him while I was casting ‘Body Heat.’ I didn’t use him, but I immediately wet back to him when I was casting ‘The Big Chill.’ That means I met him 30 years ago, and we’ve been friends ever since.
We’ve done six movies together. He’s done a cowboy for me, and he’s played a Frenchman for me. He can do anything, he’s really fun to be around. He’s a really funny guy, and he’s great on the set. On this set, something happened to him, and he never stopped talking the entire time. Between takes, during takes.
The rest of the cast were all happy to be working together, Keaton and Jenkins and Wiest and Sam Shepard. They all wanted to be with those other people. With Kevin, some switch clicked in his head. He did this running commentary throughout, and had everybody in stitches. The Dianes said to me, shut him up! (laughs) I’m going to kill him. But in fact, they loved it. It kept the spirit on the set very high.
It was a lot of pressure, time-wise. No money, no time, but it was as much fun as anything.
MK: I think Larry and Kevin both have a very similar sensibility. They’re both very interested in nuance and subtlety in the same things that people do in the significant things people do. Kevin makes Larry laugh, makes everybody laugh. Larry, especially, really relishes his sense of humor. They really have a great understanding of each other, and enjoy each other immensely.
Q: Larry, you have said that this has been one of the most gratifying film experiences you’ve ever had.
LK: I’ve been really lucky, all my movies have been really fun to make. Some of them have done well, and some of them haven’t, but have never had to do with the experience I had making them. I really enjoy making them, it’s a great job.
I love that filmmaking is about a group of people with specialized skills. They all come together, and aim it at one object. They spend their life becoming a good grip and a good electrician and a good hair stylist and a good actor. You see all that come together, and all become focused in the frame, and it’s very inspirational. I love that.
This had the additional feeling of some adversity. Not much time, the weather-we were outside all the time. We could never go back. I had an editor who we couldn’t even afford to have on the set with us. She was in Los Angeles, and she would call me occasionally, and she would say, if you ever go back to this location, and I’d just laugh. We weren’t going back anywhere. We didn’t have time to do anything. When you see people responding to that, and the crew is mostly local, and some people we brought in, but when you see people responding in a very positive and energetic way, it’s very gratifying.
Q: How was your experience shooting the film in digital?
LK: This is my first experience with digital, I’ve been shooting in film until now. I don’t think there is any going back for me. I’ve always loved film, I’ve always loved celluloid.
But the differences are becoming harder and harder to tell. Digital has improved so much, and it can so mimic the qualities of celluloid. It looks fantastic. You have to be an expert to look at it and tell.
It also gives you enormous advantages if you’re under time and money. When you’re running film through a magazine, you have to stop all the time. You can’t afford to have that film going through there. You can’t be processing it all. But with digital, there’s no limit.
We used to do take after take on the same take. I’d say, stop, let’s go back. We wouldn’t do a cut, because every time there’s a cut, there’s a tremendous loss of time. People want to come in and do make-up and hair, and everyone wants to do things. If you don’t cut, and just say, let’s go back to that line, let’s do it from there, let’s try this, and you’re just running, it’s not costing you anything.
Q: Why did it take you so long to try out digital? George Lucas and Steven Spielberg tried it out a long time ago.
KL: I haven’t made a movie in a long time, and the perfection of digital happened since I made my last movie. It’s gotten better, and it’s going to be better when I make my next movie. It’s changing all the time. This, we shot this on a Red camera, and now there are better cameras.
I was very happy with the way the movie looks. The next film I make, I will use the most current, absolute state-of-the-art camera.
Q: What was it like working with Kasey and Kuma, the two dogs who played Freeway in the film?
LK: Very easy, because we had a great trainer. We’ve done several animal movies, and in ‘The Accidental Tourist,’ there was a dog in every shot. In westerns, there are a million animals. It all has to do with your trainer and your wrangler. If they’re good, then your life’s going to be good.
Q: Lawrence, how did you get your start, and what’s your process when writing?
LK: I got my start when I was 14-years-old on ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’ I was already in love with movies, but when I saw ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ I said, this is all I want to do. Everything from that point on was focused on getting to direct movies. It took another 16 years before I was actually directing.
I thought the way for me to become a director was to write. There was a lot of writing in my family. I started writing screenplays in college, and they didn’t sell for seven years. But then they did start to sell. The second one that sold was sold to Steven Spielberg, and he introduced me to George Lucas, and they wanted me to write ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.’
Once that started, everything started speeding up. Then I went right into ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’ When that was over, people said, would you write stuff for us, and I said no, I’m going to direct. That’s how ‘Body Heat’ happened.
Q: What’s your process like when you’re writing?
KL: The process always starts with characters, and then you have to find a story to put those characters in.
Q: What’s your process like when you work together?
ML: well, this one was different, because we wanted to use the idea that the dog was lost. We wanted to discuss other themes, but we did have that. We came up with the idea that the husband lost the dog, then we felt that we had our story, and we could go from there.
KL: The wife liked the dog more than the husband (laughs), and then the husband lost the dog.
Q: What are you working on next?
KL: We’re working separately right now. Harlan Coben, who writes thriller books, I’m adapting his book, ‘Stay Close.’ Harlan and I hope to make that, it’s very dark. Then we’re going to do something together.
ML: There’s a series with ‘New York, I Love You.’ Now they’re doing ‘Jerusalem, I Love You,’ and Larry was asked to do a segment, so we’re going to write that together. We’re going to Jerusalem for the first time, in another month or so.
Written by: Karen Benardello