In the drama Trust, directed by David Schwimmer, 14-year-old Annie (Liana Liberato) makes a new friend online that she thinks is a 16-year-old boy named Charlie. Even though her parents (Clive Owen and Catherine Keener) think their daughter spends too much time chatting online, at first it seems like a harmless connection, sharing volleyball tips in a chat room. After it becomes much more, Annie then starts to realize that Charlie is not who he claims to be, but still agrees to meet him in person, which results in events so traumatic that it forever changes the lives of the entire family.
At the film’s press day, actor/director David Schwimmer talked about his interest in such a disturbing but very real subject, the importance of casting an actress that was age appropriate to play Annie, the affect that the Internet has had on children and teenagers, and how, even though he loves acting, he also loves the opportunity to be the storyteller, at times. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: Considering the sensitive subject matter and the long hours that go into making a film, did you ever think about getting an older actress to play younger, for the role of Annie, or did you always want someone who was the same age as the character?
DAVID SCHWIMMER: Yes, I think it was really crucial that the actress was age appropriate. There are films, such as An Education, where that wasn’t the case, and I think that really affects how you receive what you’re watching. I didn’t want it to, in any way, feel that, “Oh, this is okay. This is appropriate for this man to be involved with a 14-year-old.” There is a danger, if you cast someone who is 18, 19 or 20 to play 14 or 15, that very subtly, almost unconsciously, the audience is, “Oh, this isn’t so bad.” But, when you see Liana [Liberato], who at the time was 14, there is an inexperience and innocence that you can’t act and you can’t fake. That just is who she is. It was really important, in the casting process. We decided, as a group, that Liana was the right person for the job, not only because of her talent, but because of who she is, as a person.
What is your involvement with the Rape Foundation?
SCHWIMMER: In terms of my involvement with the Rape Foundation, I’ve been on the Board of Directors for the last 10 years and been involved for about 14 years. It’s an amazing organization. It’s in the community here and it really serves as a model, both internationally and nationally, for other programs, especially for the treatment of child victims. I continue to help raise money and am an advocate, and I do as much publicity as possible for them.
In researching this film, what did you find most surprising?
SCHWIMMER: I had been researching this for quite awhile, but this specific kind of crime for about seven years. I think I stumbled upon a lot of surprising things that we tried to communicate in the film, such as the unique psychology of a grooming victim. Liana’s character, Annie, must to the frustration and pain of the parents, was defending the relationship and protecting the guy. In many of these cases, a lot of these kids continue to secretly contact the predator. By that time, it’s not unlike Stockholm Syndrome, where they have developed an incredible intimacy and emotional relationship as well, by that point. And then, the realization that the character makes by the end, that she was just a victim, is devastating. I think that was a surprise to really realize that this impacts not only the character, because of the loss of innocence and that first sexual experience and the trauma of that, but the whole family. That was her first love, and it turned out like that. And also, there’s the ripple effect of just how damaging an event like this is for everyone in the family.
Do you think that kids have become less phobic of strangers because of the Internet?
SCHWIMMER: Personally, I think a huge amount of it is because of the Internet. Every single thing in the world is accessible with a few clicks. Almost every child, by the age of 13, has seen pornography. That’s clearly different. It used to be really hard or really humiliating, as a 13-year-old, to access pornography. If you wanted to take a look at a Playboy, it was really challenging. Today, it’s a joke. This movie is about parenting, in the age of technology.
Since this is such an intensely emotional film, what was the environment like on set, in between takes?
SCHWIMMER: The first job is to cast really well, which I was lucky enough to do. And, the second one was to have a spirit of collaboration, in the team, and create a really safe environment for Liana. Some of these scenes were pretty tough and scary. I intentionally put that motel room scene as late in the shoot as possible, so that by that point, especially, we had grown to be friends and really trusted each other, in our work process. I created a set in which they felt comfortable enough to take risks.
Did you have a rehearsal period for this?
SCHWIMMER: We had the luxury to rehearse, and I thank the actors for providing that time. We got to read through the script several times. We did a lot of rewrites, well ahead of shooting. It was really important because we had a really tight shoot. It was 29 days to shoot this. We had no time to start over with a scene and rewrite it, so a lot of that work was done ahead of time. And then, hopefully there was enough flexibility and space on set to play and find what was happening.
For the motel scenes, how did you decide how much the audience needed to see and what they didn’t need to see?
SCHWIMMER: I gave myself a lot of options, so that in the editing room, I could sculpt it so that it wasn’t gratuitous. I didn’t feel we needed to see much. I felt it was stronger that it’s implied. Our imagination often is more horrifying than being shown something. Also, I didn’t want to be a victim of my own message. I didn’t want to take advantage of a 14-year-old actor. I didn’t want there to be any nudity, or any real overt violence. I think it’s more terrifying that there is no violence, in that moment. There’s control and there’s power, but there’s no violence.
Is the ending on the film the one that you always intended for it?
SCHWIMMER: The idea of that ending was the ending that we had always intended. I did reshoot the last scene because the first execution was not successful. It didn’t have the impact I wanted it to have. It wasn’t a hand-held camera, home video feel. It was a big production with a crane shot and everything, and it didn’t feel right. We re-shot that last scene with a hand-held camera in two hours, at a farmer’s market, out in Pasadena. That was really important.
I had invited 50 or 60 peers and friends, most of whom were parents, to see the film, and I asked about the last scene. It was interesting because it was split right down the middle, 50/50. About half the audience wanted it to end with the very emotional scene between Clive and Liana, and that feeling of realization and catharsis. And, the other half were adamant about keeping that last scene.
So, it fell on me, and I always wanted it to be in the movie. I didn’t want people to leave feeling like, “Okay, that’s over. It’s been resolved. The family is back in order. Everything is intact.” You kind of would have forgotten about the guy, and you would have been like, “Okay, what do you want to eat?” I didn’t want that to be the last thing. I wanted the last thing to be anger, to activate the audience, in some way.
What do you get out of directing that you don’t get out of acting?
SCHWIMMER: It’s an opportunity to be the one telling the story. I love both. I love helping someone else tell their story, but I like being the storyteller sometimes.
Are you going to continue directing?
SCHWIMMER: I hope so. It takes a lot longer than acting. This was about seven years in development, and then two and a half years with pre-production, production, post and now the release. Not that I have people banging on my door to star in movies, but it takes me out of the acting game for a longer chunk of time.
Would you ever consider signing on just to direct, instead of spending so many years in development on something?
SCHWIMMER: I don’t know because it takes so much time and energy. If I’m going to do something, I really put everything into it and I want it to mean something to me. At this age – I’m 44 – I think life’s too short. I want it to mean something to me, if I’m going to spend that much time doing it.
SCHWIMMER: I had a first writer take a crack at it seven years ago, and deliver a draft that I didn’t like at all. I thought about it for three years, and then basically started from scratch. That script went through probably 50 drafts, easy. Each time, there were little changes and tweaks, and some restructuring.
You started doing post-production while you launched a stage production of Trust. How did the stage production influence your decisions in post?
SCHWIMMER: It was really interesting to be editing the film in New York and directing the play in Chicago, and one definitely informed the other. The play probably benefitted more because I realized what scenes could be cut, and I cut those scenes from the play.