We Need to Talk About Kevin (Q&A): 2011 AFI

By November 16, 2011AFI Film Festival

I knew about the big surprise before everyone else. I leave the theatre moments before the screening of We Need to Talk About Kevin begins. For what else, but popcorn. As I’m loading up on the butter, I see him: John C. Reilly. This should be good. 

After the film ends and the credits roll, not only is Reilly there for the Q&A, but also Tilda Swinton, the leading lady, accompanies him. She looks in fact like the Snow Queen she once portrayed, with bleach white hair and a delicate cream dress. Her hair is short, sharp and mirrors the severity and beauty of her bone structure. Mr. Reilly couldn’t be more different. He’s in jeans, a button down and a tan hat something like a cowboy but with more flop to it. He’s relaxed; she’s serious… surprise, surprise.

The first question is regarding the actors’ preparation for the film. The script presents them with challenging roles, as parents coaxing with the violent tendencies of her son. Swinton explains that she was on board with Lynne Ramsey, the director and writer, from the beginning. For four years they collaborated on the project and translating it form the book by Lionel Shriver, which it’s based on.  Swinton had never planned to play the role, and had hoped Ramsey would find another actress, but as the project moved along, she realized she was already so in tune with the director’s vision, it was meant to be.

John begins by saying, “Well, having kids helped, but they haven’t killed anyone yet.” Laugher ensues, as it does throughout the Q&A when John attempts to make light of the situation. He also comments that it’s strange to be talking when the credits from the film are still rolling behind them.  He thanks us for moving so quickly into the analyzing process before the film has had time to settle.

An audience member asks if it was strange to have the camera so subjective in the film, taking Swinton’s character’s (Eva) side.  “It’s very different from the book. It evolved that way.”  The question for John is beyond embarrassing, “How do you go from silly movies to serious parts?” The audience shuffles at the awkwardness of the question, although it’s probably an observation in Reilly’s career we’ve all noted. He replies, “I play characters as truthfully as I can. Whatever situation it is.” He thanks us all for allowing him to cross genres. “I guess right now the pendulum is swinging more into drama. I hope it swings back next year so I can make some money.” Ha Ha Ha.

Another ridiculous question about the two actors doing a musical together, not even worth going into the reply. Really, people? Swinton jokes that We Need To Talk About Kevin would be quite an interesting Broadway pursuit… in well deserved mockery.

A question is asked regarding the central idea or meaning behind the film. Reilly explains it bluntly, “It’s not a fairy tale. You’re barking up the wrong tree with this filmmaker if you’re expecting that. It’s a frustrating experience when it happens. It asks more questions than answers.” Tilda adds, “It’s all just as frustrating as having children, who hopefully don’t end up killing anyone. Parents don’t know what they’re doing every single day; you just hope for the best. When I saw my kids, that moment, I liked them. It could’ve gone the other way. We wanted to explore that.”

The fact that the film was made in thirty days with little to no rehearsal is remarkable. Swinton and John do recall a short photo session they had. Reilly goes for the jokes saying, “What were those even about? I have no idea.” Laughter, then Swinton briskly adds, “It was a bonding exercise; I remember it well.” It’s strange how the actors’ dynamics in person so similarly mirror their dynamics as the mother and father of Kevin on screen…