conversatin’

The New Yorker March 16, 2009

Gilroy interrupted. He reminded the actors that they were no longer facing off. “There should be no hostility,” Gilroy explained to me. They had suffered a reversal, and the effect, for now at least, was to bring them closer together. A second take: Roberts and Owen leaned toward each other as they spoke. They took each other’s hands.

CLAIRE: I can’t breathe.RAY: You’ll be O.K. CLAIRE: When? RAY: After we wake up in Rome. CLAIRE: We might have to wake up in Rome for a long time. . . . RAY: That sounds like a plan.

“Cut,” Gilroy said. He still didn’t like it. The actors tried the scene different ways. Gilroy changed Ray’s line to “Sounds like a plan.”

After each take, the camera, the lighting, and the sound had to be fixed. The hours dragged on. At midnight, the crew broke for a meal, and Gilroy joined them. He gets along well with technical crews. A grip distributed homemade mozzarella as Gilroy mulled. “We don’t want to tee the ball up,” he said.

Upon returning to the ballroom, Gilroy offered a variant line. The actors tried it: CLAIRE: We might have to wake up in Rome for a long time. RAY: Plan on it.

The line still felt too much like a zinger. Owen looked like he’d rather be saying something else; Roberts looked like she’d rather hear something else. The techies looked pained. Gilroy quietly gave the actors notes. “Action,” he said.

CLAIRE: I can’t breathe. RAY: You’ll be O.K. CLAIRE: When? RAY: After we wake up in Rome. CLAIRE: We might have to wake up in Rome for a long time. RAY: That’s the plan.

The flatness of the line worked against Owen’s British accent, eliminating the whiff of effortful wit. The more serious tone suggested that running a “triple game” had been difficult for Ray; it humanized him. He was no longer just a man with a good suit and an easy smile. The actors had given the scene a useful tentativeness: the sexual bond between Ray and Claire was clear, but now something deeper was at stake. At the same time, the underlined intimacy of the scene—the silence around the dialogue, the sustained shot—would make the viewer suspicious. Hadn’t we fallen for this sort of thing many times before? Was a new trick coming? This was a movie about acting, after all. The camera slowly pulled back, all the way out of the room, teasing the audience. “Cut. Star it!” Gilroy said. ♦

Man, dialogues

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