A stunning actress whose remarkable skill and talent have graced the screens in some of the most beloved films of all times, Julia Ormond has most recently been seen in two of the most highly anticipated films of 2008: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” from director David Fincher and “Che” from director Steven Soderbergh. She is currently filming “The Wronged Man” for television and has another film in post-production, “Temple Grandi”n, starring Catherine O’Hara and David Strathairn.
Her latest film, “Surveillance”, is a taut, over the top thriller directed by Jennifer Lynch in the tradition of Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon”. Ormond plays Federal Officer Elizabeth Anderson who, along with her partner, Sam Hallaway (Bill Pullman), arrives at a small mid-western police station in the middle of nowhere to investigate a string of vicious murders told from three distinctly different perspectives by the surviving witnesses.
It’s been a hell of a day on the highway. One zealot cop (Kent Harper), a strung out junkie (Pell James) and an eight year old girl (Ryan Simpkins) all sit in testimony to the roadside rampage, but as the Feds begin to expose the fragile little details each witness conceals so carefully with a well practiced lie, they soon discover that uncovering ‘the truth’ about the crime spree can come at a very big cost.
Julia Ormond is a terrific actress and we really appreciated her time. After the jump is what she had to tell us about the role:
Q: What drew you to this script and what did you like about it?
JULIA ORMOND: What I liked about it a lot, for me, it’s been quite a hurdle to get a role that’s a modern American role. I have a tendency to be cast in European things or period American films or whatever, so that, for me, was a big plus. Also, it’s the kind of film that I felt was not the usual kind of thing that I’m cast in, but I liked it a lot and I felt that it was risky. I know that Jen (Jennifer Lynch) said to me, “Can you afford to do something like this?” and I said, “I feel like I’m at a point where I can’t afford not to.” I think it’s the sort of piece that potentially could be controversial but I really trusted her intention behind it and I like it.
Q: How was it working with Jennifer Lynch? How did you find her as a director?
JULIA ORMOND: Pretty amazing. She’s so wonderfully open and raw. She’s come through the experience of Boxing Helena and, from my perspective, a good deal of misunderstanding about that movie where you saw a young female filmmaker go through the fire and be burnt by it and then kind of disappear for a while. She’s very open about the process and the journey that she’s been on in between. What I really would love to champion about her, what I find inspirational about her, is that she didn’t come back with something that was easy, bog-standard fare, the sort of typical thing that we see from women filmmakers. It’s a business where most of us, I would count myself in it, try and mix it up in terms of the things that we do, a bit maybe more commercial. We try and bring the changes that enable us to have an independent voice. I think ultimately everybody is striving for “I want to do the projects that I want to do.” What I love about her as a filmmaker is that this is so idiosyncratically her voice and the experience of working with her was I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a director who puts more passion behind nurturing every single person on the set and getting the best out of them. When you have so much to juggle as a filmmaker and a director and with people firing questions at you all day long, often that role gets left to other people and very much the experience of everybody on the set comes from the head of it and she’s very much the confident head of it. She is also very free, very nurturing, very collaborative, but very strong on vision, and those elements are not always as complimentary as they are with her. This was a really special film for me and I think it’s risky because I think when you look at it at the end of the day, it’s the sort of film you might ask questions over.
Q: Did you see what was coming when you read the script and what was your reaction when you found out the true nature of your character?
JULIA ORMOND: The way that I have been describing it is that I play an FBI agent. For me, maybe I can answer that by looking at the title. The title of the film, Surveillance, kind of flummoxed me for a while. I was like, “I kind of get it but I don’t really get why this is called Surveillance.” For me, the title really speaks to the world that we live in and, in particular, a post 9/11 world where there is surveillance by authorities that supposedly the objective of is to understand the truth and to keep us safe. What the film does is you have these two people who are using film as a surveillance tool but nevertheless, what’s the truth? All of these different people that they are seeing are flawed in different ways. They are flawed themselves as human beings as all of us are. And the one person who has access to the truth is the child at the center of it who is the innocent who sees everything because they’re open and have not become disconnected. For me, all of the characters in it have somehow become disconnected from their responsibility for love and respect to all of human kind. The epitome of innocence is that position and that she’s able to see as a result of that. All of the characters have a secret. All of the characters are flawed.
What I love about the film is I feel that when we have so much violent fare in movies, we sort of become anesthetized to it and what you see in this film, or what I experienced, was I found myself being drawn into characters. I found myself laughing at stuff and thinking, “Yeah, they must be really sick.” I should not be laughing at this and this is terrible but it’s kind of sucking me in through humor that actually means that when something happens in the piece that I believe is truly dark and truly violent, it’s taken you somewhere else. You kind of come at it or experience it, I hope, in a different way and on a different level. I really believe that there’s a lot of violence in film that is sort of dismissed as harmless. If you look at children’s movies, the number of times you see characters or animals hitting each other or using force to get what they want, that is perceived as an innocent use of violence. There’s something for me about this that just takes us on a different journey of looking at it.
Q: Was there a difference in your approach to the individual scenes early in the film versus later in the film?
JULIA ORMOND: No. The way I looked at it was that the characters that you have in the ensemble are either very up front about their flaws. It’s become part of their identity. Maybe they think that they’re hip or they’re cool or whatever for the drug stuff, say. So some of them are fully inhabiting their flaws and wearing them on their sleeves and others are hiding something they don’t want others to know about because that would be a negative against their identity. For me, and in particular in the role that Bill and I have, they’re playing their role but at the same time they’re always saying something else because of their relationship. When you watch a second time, you’ll see that the things that they’re saying have a double side to it. I think there’s stuff in the film that makes sense when you watch it the second time.
Q: As an actor, what’s it like playing the character as one thing and then spinning it over and playing it as something else?
JULIA ORMOND: Whatever character you play, whatever film it is, whatever story it is, for me, in my training it’s always something that gives you a layered character, it’s understanding the secret of that character, and so whatever comes up as “Oh, I thought that person was that,” you are always carrying that within you. So actually what you’re playing all the way through is both and it’s just what comes out in the scene or the circumstance. All of us go through life and then something makes us angry and a different thing comes out, but it’s not like we’re not connected to that underneath. So it’s probably not as complicated as it may seem.
Q: What was your experience like working with Bill Pullman?
JULIA ORMOND: He was really great. He was really amazing. He was asked early on what is the thing he liked most about his character and he said, “The haircut.” (laughs) I remember being in the make-up room and looking at him and I would think he so reminds me of someone and I can’t put my finger on who it is, and I suddenly realize it’s Bill Pullman. (Laughs) Okay, great, that was really perceptive of me. What I loved about him was he was so solid yet so free. There are certain actors that you come across who have so much experience from their work that they’re really solid in where they can go. They can go completely out on a limb with something. They can try something and they can do it on the spot without really needing to process it too much or articulate it or analyze it. It’s just a free flow of creative stuff so it was great.
Q: There are a lot of subtle exchanges between the two of you. Did you talk a little before scenes or did you just go in and do it?
JULIA ORMOND: It was really pretty much the regular creative process where you sit down and you go through the script and you work it out. I think there was stuff that Jen allowed us to bring to the table. It’s pretty much the same with whatever character you’re playing. You’re always juggling in film in particular the fact that you shoot the story out of order, out of sequence, so you have basic stepping stones that everybody is trying to achieve so that the whole thing fits when it comes together. I think everything kind of speaks to that. For me, the only ego that needs serving in putting together a film is the story’s, the ego of the story and it’s the piece itself that you want to bring out the voice of the piece. You’re really serving that and that’s the thing that you have a basic understanding of. It was always about how do we best reflect that or enhance that.
Q: Do you see this as a dark movie?
JULIA ORMOND: Oh my! (Laughs) Yeah! Yes, I do, but I also believe that it’s a pretty dark world. For me, violence out there in the world is something that we should look at. To me, in tone, and I don’t want to make any quality judgment about the film, it was very similar to Reservoir Dogs but it was really interesting to have a woman’s take on violence partly because it’s not bog-standard fare from them. I just felt that in and of itself was really interesting because there’s a certain license that I think she is just given for being a woman. I’m not suggesting that everybody who sees the films knows that, but it helped me understand the intention of the film, if that’s not speaking in riddles. I feel like I’m speaking in riddles.
Q: How do you think the perception or the intent is different because it’s a woman director as opposed to someone like Tarantino?
JULIA ORMOND: Well I would honestly say that there is certain stuff that I think Jen has in the film and has put in the film. In all honesty, I would be more questioning if it was a male director and that’s probably wrong of me. It’s probably where maybe I have a prejudice in terms of what I’m seeing. I guess what I would also say is I think women in film I feel kind of get pigeon-holed in the type of stuff that we get sent to do or that we latch on to do and maybe even pigeon hole ourselves. I love that she has the courage and rawness to break away from that. The heart of this film, I don’t feel it’s cold. I feel it’s very passionate and it’s got this innocent child in it that somehow makes it a different movie for me.
Q: What was it like working with Ryan Simpkins?
JULIA ORMOND: She was great. They’re always alarmingly professional. Any notion that… People say, “Did you help them?” and I said, “Not really.” They always kind of make you step up because they’ll so easily drop in and out of it. They’re so connected to play still and particularly in this piece. I’ve done other pieces that had children in it. There was a Peter Greenaway film that I did years ago, The Baby of Macon, that had certain disturbing adult themes in it and the capacity for a child to go there is quite extraordinary and have a very grounded take on it and understand it for what it is. The experience of making a film is in this context an entirely different one to seeing it. She’s just sweet. I spent a bunch of time with her and her family sort of outside of the filming. It was great to see them dive into this professional circumstance and then dive back out to story time and play and puppies and all the rest of it but just healthy kid stuff.
Q: What do you have coming up next?
JULIA ORMOND: After this, there’s a Lifetime movie called The Wronged Man and a piece that’s currently called Temple Grandin. It’s about Temple Grandin and I play Temple’s mother and Claire Dane plays a rather brilliant Temple Grandin.