Opening in limited release on April 11th is the tender drama “The Visitor.” Starring Richard Jenkins, the film is a warm evocation of multicultural friendship, brought together by the rhythms of life. Here’s a synopsis:
Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) is a widowed college professor trying to connect with his late wife through failed piano lessons. Sent to live for a short time at his neglected
Recently,Collider sat down with writer/director Thomas McCarthy and actor Haaz Sleiman to discuss the making of the film.
Question: What was the seed for this story?
Thomas McCarthy: It started with characters. It was that simple. It started with the character of Tarek, who I felt I hadn’t seen before. Same with Walter, and I had that kickin’ around for a long time. It started with these two characters and how would they meet? Then it was just natural extensions. It was really putting pieces of a puzzle together. That’s one of the fun parts about writing is to have this central relationship. Then Mouna comes in and that becomes the central relationship. It’s character driven.
Question: “Visitor” is your second directorial outing. What did you learn from your experience making “The Station Agent” that you brought to “Visitor?”
McCarthy: Lots. Your first film is a massive learning curve. The second time, you sort of know all the steps. With your first film, you’re stepping into each new phase of the operation; it’s like “oh!” So I learned a lot. I also worked with a lot of the same people on the technical side: the cinematographer, my editor, my production designer. We had a shorthand with our history together. That made the process move a little quicker.
Question: Did you enjoy a larger budget?
McCarthy: We did, though I will say by
Question: You’ve also maintained a successful acting career over the years. At this point which do you prefer: acting or directing?
McCarthy: I really, truly enjoy them both. The logical answer is that if I didn’t enjoy one I would just stop doing it. There’s no reason to do both. Really, I enjoy the hell out of both, and the both complement each other. I learned a lot in my acting about directing, and when I direct I learn a lot about acting.
Question: Would you want to act in something you direct?
McCarthy: Only if I felt there was no one else who could play the role. I’m not sure that’s the case. It would be one too many hats to wear. I don’t think I need to do it. I certainly don’t think I’m a big enough name where it helps to do both.
Question: Did you have any experience with drumming before the movie?
Haaz Sleiman: No. None whatsoever. I had to practice for a month and a half, every day for three hours. When we started shooting, I prayed to God that I could pull it off, and thank God for editors, you know?
Question: Where did you find inspiration for the character?
Sleiman: The story itself was an inspiration for me. From that point it was a natural evolution of that character for me. And, you know, from my own personal life.
Question: How did Richard Jenkins come to be in the film?
McCarthy: I wrote it with Richard in mind. I love his work and thought he would be totally right for this picture. I felt the essence was right. When I finished the script I sent it right to his agent and we soon had lunch. He said yes. It was a painless process.
Question: Had you worked with him before?
McCarthy: No. never did.
Question: What was the collaborative process between you and Jenkins?
Sleiman: It was really great. I think Tom allowed for that to grow during the rehearsal time – we had a really nice two-week rehearsal time. And that process, whether it was working on the script or connecting with Richard, it was just so essential before we started shooting the film. He’s a tremendous actor, so I learned a lot from him as a person, and on top of that there was something really beautiful happening as we were rehearsing; a simple unforced connection. And we fell in love (laughs).
Question: 9/11 fingerprints are plentiful in the movie. What mood were you intending with these visual stamps?
McCarthy: I think if you live in New York or if you’re telling a story about New York, 9/11 is there. I don’t think it’s looming over this movie in such a way that the film is compelled by the events of 9/11. I live there, and it does come up. I think there’s one reference to the towers, and even that’s from a historical perspective. 9/11 certainly had an impact on immigration policy; profiling basically became legalized. I think it’s there because it’s a part of
Question: What’s coming up next for you?
Sleiman: Working on a one-man show, workshopping it right now
McCarthy: Working on a movie in
Question: Do you plan to direct again in the future?
McCarthy: Not the near-future, but yes. I do plan to direct again.