Edward Zwick

17 Mar

Interview: Edward Zwick, director of Love and Other Drugs

Beyond Glory days

By TOM MEEK  |  November 26, 2010


Folks most immediately identify Edward Zwick as the director behind Glory (1989), perhaps one of the greatest Civil War dramas ever rendered on film. Not bad for a sophomore outing — one that came as a  stark contrast to Zwick’s first feature film, About Last Night, a 1986 cheeky romantic comedy starring Rob Lowe and Demi Moore. From there, Zwick — who’d worked in drama at Harvard and cut his teeth in TV with the popular serial thirtysomething — would embark on a cinematic directorial career encompassing a diverse and wide-sweeping range of subjects: Zwick was the hand behind such films as The SiegeDefiance, and The Last Samurai.

Equally impressive are Zwick’s endeavors as a producer. His name is etched on such Academy Award golden children as Shakespeare in Love and Traffic.

For his latest, Love and Other Drugs (read our review here), Zwick writes, produces, and directs. This one’s another rom-com, with some darker issues at heart and centered on the late-’90s pharmaceutical bubble crowned by the introduction of Viagra to the marketplace. The inspiration for the movie comes from Jamie Reidy’s novel Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman and stars desirable, upwardly mobile talents Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. I recently had a chance to sit down with Zwick and discuss the film and his life behind the camera.

What drew you to this project?
I had always been interested in human behavioral comedy. I had done it before in my career and gone back to it with My So-Called Life and thirtysomething, so it’s not like I ever left it. I think it’s really important for an artist to remain a moving target, and I think I have focused the past couple of years on pieces that were larger in scale and that were often in a historical context or epic, and I just wanted to bring it down to something that was only about the performances and only about the smaller moments and try to talk about what is epic in personal lives.

There’s sort of a similarity between this project andAbout Last Night.
Sure, you’re talking about characters who are inhibited or in denial or reluctant about the truth of things. To have a character who has no compunctions telling those truths is a rhetorical device that in comedy is pretty useful and pretty classic. Think of Molière or Kaufman. There’s always a character who’s an earnest truth teller in there, and to make it comic is another way to make it work.

Would you say there’s a political message in the film about the pharmaceutical business, that it tries to keep us amped up 24/7 so that we’re popping the pills to feed their bottom lines?
The culture changed radically, where suddenly there’s a quick fix for everything and drugs became commoditized. There is no quick fix for love, however; it exists in juxtaposition to all these conditions that can be addressed or presumably addressed, and I thought that was a very interesting context that would resonate. And Viagra is a particular drug that is only about sex and presumably can be part of love, but again, that is something that is being sold and part of this moment in the culture, which was the go-go ’90s, where everything could just be immediate and amplified and exposed. And things you never talked about suddenly you’re talking about, and the idea that people have to go through steps that can’t be skipped to achieve real intimacy is made more compelling when viewed in that ambient universe.

You have two sexy stars in some very steamy scenes. Was that something that evolved or was it planned?
We talked about it from the beginning. In my humble experience, when two people come together for the first time, particularly when you’re young, that reveling in each other — that joy in being together and being naked together — is part of it. And I had always seen it done in movies in a coy way, and I thought that the authenticity of the rest of the movie, whether it had to do with Parkinsons or the drug industry, had to be mirrored in their relationship. But we didn’t want to do something that was exploitative, either. So a lot of it when you see them naked, it’s them just talking and the sex is meant to be in the service of the story. In one moment, it’s because they are trying to avoid conversation, and another moment, it’s because there’s a problem in the relationship that they’re having to deal with. In another moment, it’s about expression of emotion that they might have otherwise had trouble saying. So it is intrinsic to the story, rather than just another opportunity to look at their bodies. It’s trying to be honest in the way to show how sex plays in a new relationship, both as a boon to the relationship and ironically, as a way of shutting them out so they don’t have to talk about the other things that are happening.

You made everyone look pretty sexy, even Ohio, especially when you have the pseudo-orgy in the manse that looks like somewhere in Beverly Hills.
[Laughs] That was actually in Pittsburgh. There is an element of fantasy and wish fulfillment in every love story. And when you think of the iconography of love stories, it’s usually two faces captured together in a particular moment, because something has combusted, and in your imagination, they’re seared in this iconic way. We wanted the look of the movie to be realistic but also pretty. I think the wish of seeing a love story is to see one’s self as one of those two people in that moment. And there are people with whom you identify and people you don’t, and it’s very hard to understand why one combination of actors works and one doesn’t. But they also have to seem plausibly, but for a camera and a hundred people at a service table, [like they] might be together. When you see it foisted on you and it’s wrong, there is something you resist. That 64-year-old actor with that 24-year-old girl, you say, ‘No, I’m not buying that.’

If it weren’t forRachel Getting Married, I’m not sure I would have been ready for Anne Hathaway in this role.
She has constantly challenged herself. I also saw her do Shakespeare in the park; she played Viola. She’s artistically ambitious. And Jake is hugely talented, too, and some choices have been great choices and some, less than great.

Are we talking thatPrince of Persia video-game movie?
I’m not saying anything. I knew an aspect of Jake that I don’t think audience did that is very funny, charming, and masculine. I think when people see his work in this, they’ll forget that last one.

What do you think of films showing on digital now? Your film [shown at Regal Fenway] looked a little dim, not as crisp as it should be.
I was there for a moment, and it didn’t look as good as it should. I think something needed to be tweaked. We shot on film. It’s gorgeous; we’re going to release a lot on film, as well as digital.

So how does that make you feel as an artist to see your film shown not in the way you intended?
I’ve yet to shoot on digital, but the ability to have quality control in digital is actually easier. I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen a bad [film] print, scratched to shit and shown with a dull bulb. Standardization will happen.

A funny point my editor [Peter Keough] made: the film is about Viagra, yet the clawed bathtub we see Jake and Anne in looks like one right from the Cialis ads.
[Laughs] I’ll tell you a good story. When I was doing Glory, there is a scene where he [Mathew Broderick] is practicing the saber on his horse, and he’s slashing pumpkins because the story takes place in the fall right before they go into battle. And when we shot the movie, it was in the Spring, and there wasn’t a pumpkin to be found in all of Georgia, so the prop guy used watermelons. Well, of course, there are you critics, who said that slashing the watermelons must be symbolic of black slavery because they were eating the watermelons, and here’s the director doing this heavy-handed symbolism. But the reality was, we just couldn’t get pumpkins. I once had a loft where in the center there was a bathtub like that, and I thought why not; and now it’s a symbol of making fun of Cialis. That’s kind of funny. There is art that is deliberate, and there is that which is inadvertent.

Which of your works is most special to you?
Every director believes that his next movie will be his best. But I have extraordinary fondness for Traffic, because it was part of the currency of its day. It really made a statement about our culture. And in a way, Glory honored something that I always cared about, which is a love of history and the kind of a film it is, and a set of performances that just happened to come together in a way. The stars aligned the right people in the right part at the right moment. It was also a movie that gave me a whole host of opportunities that followed. I had done a small comedy, and nobody assumed I could do a film like that, and so doing it made it possible for a lot that followed. So it will always have a place in my heart.

So what’s next?
I’m bad at that. Do you cook? If you do, have you ever beaten egg whites by hand? When you beat egg whites by hand, you use a whisk, and you think your wrist is going to fall off, and there’s a moment when suddenly they peak and quicken &ldots; that’s what I do.

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