Julianne Moore and Don McKellar have walked the red carpet at TIFF any number of times. But this year they're doing it together, as the star and screenwriter of Fernando Meirelles's Blindness, an adaptation of José Saramago's notoriously difficult novel. (McKellar also appears in the movie as a seedy car thief.) The day after the film opened the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, Moore and McKellar sat down with the press.
Okay, first the obvious question: were there any unique challenges to making a movie called Blindness?
McKellar: It's funny, you know - when we were trying to get the rights, Saramago said, "Why would you want to make a movie about a book called Blindness?" And I came right back with a really nice film-type response like, "Well, if it's about blindness, it's also about seeing!"
And it's true that when I was writing it, I thought about all those sort of film-theory ideas about points of view and the responsibility of seeing, and who's looking, and what are we looking at. All those questions that usually would be pretentious to address head on in a film became essential.
The novel has a unique voice, as though the author is deliberately shrouding the characters from the reader as well as each other. Did that make it harder to find your way through the story?
Moore: I loved that idea of not having names, not having a cultural identity, of being from everywhere and nowhere. It's a fable.
I mean, sometimes you think, "What language are they speaking?" Even in the dialogue there's a sense that it's a little bit stilted sometimes, a little off. You don't know where you are. That was the conceit we were working with.
The movie encourages that dislocation even further by using locations in Canada and Brazil. And most of its midsection was shot in the abandoned Ontario Reformatory in darkest Guelph, Ontario. How'd that work out for you?
DM: It looks like it could be a cross-section of Toronto. Also, São Paulo, where we shot half the film, is incredibly multi-ethnic - it's got the biggest Japanese population outside of Japan. I think viewers from more homogenous cities will look at it and think, "Oh, this is some big sci-fi idea," but to me it could easily be Toronto.
JM: Guelph is a pretty place. It was summertime, so it was beautiful - there were plenty of farmers' markets, that kind of thing. My kids had a house with a pool in the back. They were thrilled. They would come to the set at lunchtime and play soccer with Fernando's son. Mark's [Ruffalo] kids came, and his wife, Sunny. It was nice.
I wore no makeup in the movie, so I literally would just show up, put on my dirty clothes and go.
Julianne, as the one character who keeps her sight in a story where everyone else goes blind, you spend the movie surrounded by people who can't make eye contact with you. How do you keep that from turning into the acting workshop from hell?
JM: That's my job! But it wasn't hard - I was working with a great director who's aware that every gesture carries a huge amount of meaning, so he lets you work with such subtlety. That's rare and really important in a film like this.
In life, our behaviour is pretty darn subtle. Nobody else will know your husband is mad, but you'll know because you know him. Fernando is working on that level of behaviour, so it's exciting.
Don, not only did you write the movie, but you gave yourself the most vivid, pus-covered role. Aren't actors supposed to be, you know, vain?
DM: Thank you! "Pus-covered." Please print that, I want to make sure it's preserved. Well, I didn't cast myself. That was Fernando's impression of me. But I like that, you know, because there's something amusing about a screenwriter being this vile character right from the beginning.