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September 2008
NIGHTS IN RODANTHE | An Interview with Director George C. Wolfe

NIGHTS IN RODANTHE
An Interview with Director George C. Wolfe
by Wilson Morales


September 15, 2008

Anyone who knows the works of George c. Wolfe shouldn’t be surprised that the transition from the theater world to the film industry has been met with admiration and success and that most people would love the chance to work with him on any project he has lined up.

From 1993 to 2004, Wolfe served as artistic director and producer of the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater, where he created the musical Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk, an ensemble of tap and music that starred Savion Glover. He also directed Tony Kushner's Caroline, or Change and Suzan-Lori Parks' Pulitzer Prize-winning play Topdog/Underdog, which starred Jeffrey Wright and Mos Def.

For his first film feature, ‘Lackawanna Blues’, Wolfe had a bevy of talent in the cast and won many accolades, including an Emmy for it lead, S. Epatha Merkerson. His latest film work is ‘Nights in Rodanthe’, which is from the work of author Nicholas Sparks, whose previous works have included the films ‘The Notebook’, and ‘Message in a Bottle’.

Adrienne Willis (Diane Lane), a woman with her life in chaos, retreats to the tiny coastal town of Rodanthe, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, to tend to a friend's inn for the weekend. Here she hopes to find the tranquility she so desperately needs to rethink the conflicts surrounding her?a wayward husband who has asked to come home, and a teenaged daughter who resents her every decision. Almost as soon as Adrienne gets to Rodanthe, a major storm is forecast and Dr. Paul Flanner (Richard Gere) arrives. The only guest at the inn, Flanner is not on a weekend escape but rather is there to face his own crisis of conscience. Now, with the storm closing in, the two turn to each other for comfort and, in one magical weekend, set in motion a life-changing romance that will resonate throughout the rest of their lives.

Wolfe spoke to blackfilm.com about his latest project and working with Richard Gere and Diane Lane.


How did the project come to you?

George C. Wolfe: After I did ‘Lackawanna Blues’, I did a play called ‘Caroline, or Change’ and it was at the National Theater in London and I came back from that and I sort of spoke to my agent and said that I would like to do another movie, and I was sent this script and it was something I hadn’t read before and there was something within the story that I found intriguing and I told them I like it. I then spoke with the producer, Denise Di Novi, and she told me that Richard Gere and Diane Lane were in the film. It all happened rather quickly. We talked in December and we were filming in May.


Had you read the book prior to taking on the film?

GCW: No, I really hadn’t read the book but I became fascinated about people at a midpoint in their lives who were processing what a family is when there is a loss. I could relate in some sense because I had lost both of my parents. I think that’s what spoke to me. You make these choices in your life and at some point you say to yourself, ‘What happens next? Is the way my life is going to be or is there a possibility of adding more to it?’ so I was drawn to that. I’m also drawn to projects that have another kind of energy and intensity and edge to them. I was intriguing in seeing what kind of muscles I was used to cultivate inside myself as an artist to tell this story.


How different is this from ‘Lackawanna Blues’?

GCW: Well, ‘Lackawanna Blues’ I had a lot of history with. I was producer of the Public Theater, I commission Reuben Santiago Hudson to do a one man show based on the project and then he went off and wrote a great pieces, which was very successful in New York, and atone point HBO got involved and started turning it into a project, he asked me to get involved, as did HBO, and that’s how I became a director for it and also the cast was filled with so many actors I had worked with previously. Epatha (S. Merkerson) had done the play at the public. Jeffrey Wright had worked with me previously. Marcus Carl Franklin had done ‘Caroline, or Change’ for me. I had all this history. I also grew up, and I’m from Kentucky, in a town that is somewhat segregated so a lot of the aspects of ‘Lackawanna’ were known to me. In this situation it was very different because I had no prior relationship with the material and I was working with actors whom I had never worked with before, which is completely. That’s why I was fascinated in doing the film.


Knowing that Richard and Diane have each other for over 20 years, what’s it like to direct the two of them?

GCW: Every single time you do a project you are a virgin, so if you have history with the cast, that helps, but if you don’t, you are going over stuff, like how to animate a story; how to tell a story viscerally, emotionally, and visually so that an audience can get it. I love working with actors where you get good performances. What I try to do is provide a level of safety and trust so that the film can work; and that applies to any project. I try to provide an environment where it feels emotionally safe. I like to put myself in situations where I don’t know what the hell is going to happen next.


Were you able to bring anything out of Richard and Diane that you had not seen in any of the previous films?

GCW: I think they both do incredible wonderful work and are gifted actors. There’s a scene in the movie where I think Diane is just great and the scene is just powerful. There’s another scene where Richard is receiving information and you see him let his guard down and become involved with the situation. They both did lovely and amazing work on this movie and I’m very proud of them. Viola Davis is in the film and she’s a wonderful actress and so is Scott Glenn.


Were there any changes from the book?

GCW: The book is told in flashbacks, and that’s no longer the case. It’s all told in the present. The Viola Davis character is very different from the book. I made her a painter and the inn her home so that there’s an artistic/ magical feeling to where they are staying. The story remains the same but there are different shifts and focus.


How was filming in North Carolina?

GCW: Filming in the outer banks of North Carolina I really completely loved. It’s culturally really fascinating place around the coast of North Carolina. It’s like the first place where there were shipwrecks. There’s a mysterious British colony that disappeared in the 1500s. It’s a place where there free Black people. It’s place that has a really fascinating history. Even where the house we filmed in has a beautiful landscape.


How’s the transition been from theater to film?

GCW: Creatively, it’s been strangely effortless. I’ve been blessed. I did ‘Lackawanna Blues’, which was well received by critics and audiences and won many accolades and that was great; and now I’m doing something completely different that’s a love story. I hope to continue doing it and get projects that are different from the last one I’ve done, which was what I was able to do in the theater world so I hope I get to do the same in film.


What’s next?

GCW: I’m doing a play called ‘Free men on color’, which is by John Guare and it’s about the Louisiana Purchase and it’s a restoration comedy that turns into an outgoing of America with Jeffrey Wright and Mos Def and a cast of 27 with Thomas Jefferson and Lee Meriwether and Napoleon and Josephine and all these other characters.; so I will be doing that with performances starting in February 2009 and shortly after that I may be doing another movie, but we’ll see.


Why should anyone see ‘Nights in Rodanthe’?

GCW: They should go see it because I directed it. You should go see it because it really has great performances and it looks really gorgeous. I think it’s very emotionally moving and it’s a beautiful loving story and I’m very proud of it. I’m very proud of my legacy of my work as a director in terms of the stories that I have told and I’m very proud of this. If you have like ‘Bring in Da Noise’, ‘Topdog Underdog’, ‘Angels in America’, and ‘Caroline, or Change’, and ‘Lackawanna Blues’, then hopefully you will go and support the movie.


‘Nights in Rodanthe’ opens on September 26, 2008.


 


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