Opening up in theatres this week is Trust. Directed by former Friends star David Schwimmer, the film stars Clive Owen, Catherine Keener, and Liana Liberato. At the film’s LA press day, I had a chance to sit down with David, Clive, Catherine and Liana. They discussed what the movie means to them, the touchy subject material, how they prepared for their roles and more.
In the film, Liana Liberato plays Annie, a 14 year-old girl targeted by a sexual predator who causes an emotional shockwave that threatens to tear her family apart. Her co-stars are Clive Owen and Catherine Keener as the parents who struggle to keep their family together.
Check out the interview below. Audio version included at the end of the page.
Question: Clive, as a father, what is it about this movie that spoke to you?
Clive Owen: The script was hugely topical and one that everyone should be thinking about. How our children relate on the internet is a huge thing. My kids know more about how to use the computers than I do. There are worries that come with that. My youngest is 12 and she’s into the age where she’s onto the computer relating to people all the time and it’s a young age. They’re developing these very intense relationships through their computers. You can regulate it as best you can, but ultimately unless you take the computer away from them, they can be doing things that I’m not aware of. I think the subject of children relating through the computer is a very big deal.
Question: David, considering the sensitive subject material, were you always intent on getting an age appropriate actress?
David Schwimmer: I think it was really crucial that the actress was age appropriate. There are films such as An Education that came out where that wasn’t the case and I think that affects how you receive what you’re watching. I didn’t want it to feel that “Oh this is ok. This is appropriate for this man to be involved with this 14 year old .” There’s a danger if you cast someone 18, 19, 20 playing 14, 15. Very subtly, very subconsciously, the audience is thinking “this isn’t so bad.” But when you see Liana, who at the time was 14, there is a kind of inexperience and innocence that you can’t act, that you can’t fake. That is who she is. We decided as a group on Liana. Not only because of her talent, but who she is as a person.
Question: Liana, how hard was it for you to do some of the scenes? What was the set like after the scenes?
Liana Liberato: It was tough. It’s tough material, but I personally believe the director sets the atmosphere for the whole cast and crew and we feed off that. Anytime the camera wasn’t rolling, we were having a good time and laughing. We were all just one big family on set. There was no tension at all.
David Schwimmer: Part of it was to cast really well. Also, to have a spirit of collaboration as a team and a feeling to create a really safe environment, especially for Liana where some of the scenes are pretty tough and scary. We put the hotel scene as late as possible and by then we were all friends and trusted each other in our work process. It created a set where they were comfortable to take risks.
Question: What was it that you didn’t know that you found out in researching for the film?
David Schwimmer: I’d been researching this for quite a while. About seven years. I think I stumbled upon a lot of things that we put in the film, such as the unique psychology of a grooming victim, where Liana’s character Annie, much to the frustration and pain of the parents, was defending the relationship and protecting the boyfriend. In many of these cases, the kids secretly continue to contact the predator and by that time, it’s not unlike Stockholm Syndrome, where they’ve developed an incredible intimacy and relationship as well. And the realization that the character makes at the end is devastating. I think that was a surprise to realize that it not only impacts the character because of the loss of innocence and first sexual experience, but there’s a devastation for the whole family when they realize, that was her first love and it turned out like that. And also the ripple effect of how damaging it is for everyone in the family.
Question: Are you on Facebook?
Clive Owen: No, I’m not on Facebook. It doesn’t interest me. The amount of time people put into those, I prefer to use another way.
Question: Catherine, as a mother, what was it like playing the role?
Catherine Keener: There were a lot of frightening things. I realized that kids aren’t stranger-phobic as much or at all anymore. They talk to them all the time now. My kid is now my tech support and it’s insane. One girl I know, she’s 17, and she said she was watching the movie and said “oh, basically, she asked for it”. This is a 17 year old! She basically said “I was kind of aware all of this and active at 11”. And I said “I need to throw you in a camp and deprogram you” (laughs). It’s frightening that these ideas are held by young people. What’s good about this film is that it educates people and it talks about a victim being groomed.
Question: How did you decide how much the audience would see in the hotel scene?
David Schwimmer: I gave myself a lot of options, so in the editing room, I could scope that it wasn’t gratuitous. I didn’t feel that we needed to see much. It’s stronger that it’s implied. Our imagination is often more horrifying that seeing something. I also didn’t want to be kind of the victim of my message of the film, which was not to take advantage of a 14 year old actor. I didn’t want there to be any nudity or any real overt violence. I think it’s more terrifying that there is more violence in that moment. There’s control and power, but no violence.
Question: Catherine, what lessons have you learned from your mother as it relates to your role?
Catherine Keener: I guess I learned from a lot of mothers who have helped me along the way, just by demonstrating what it’s like to be close and keep in touch with your child. I admired that in the screenplay and David’s intention to keep that alive, the relationship between us all. Being a good mom and intact. Unfortunately, even in those circumstances you have to be watchful. It’s not always a parent that’s less vigilant whose child this can happen to. My mom, I guess I learned a lot about love from my mom and that was very prevalent while shooting. We really did feel very loving towards each other. Liana’s parents were there all the time. The kids were kids and we were all very intent in keeping it that way. It was just a real camaraderie between all of us.
Question: Did you have a couple different endings for this?
David Schwimmer: The ending was the ending that we had always intended. I did reshoot the last scene because the first execution was not successful. It didn’t have the effect that I wanted it to have. It wasn’t a handheld home video. It was a big camera production with a crane shot and it didn’t feel right, so we re-shot that with a handheld camera in two hours in a farmer’s market in Pasadena. That was really important. In an early screening with about 50 or 60 peers and friends, most were parents and I asked about the last scene and it was split down the middle 50-50. Half of them wanted it to end with the scene with Clive and Liana and the other half were adamantly like “you’ve got to keep that last scene”. I always wanted it to be in the movie, because I didn’t want people to leave the theater thinking “whew. Ok, thats over. It’s been resolved. Everything’s intact.” And you would’ve kind of forgotten about the guy. And you would’ve been like “ok, what do you want to eat” and I didn’t want that to be the last thing. I wanted the last thing to be anger, to activate the audience in some way.
Question: Liana, how has this changed your internet activity online?
Liana Liberato: I remember getting on Myspace when I was 10 and my friends signing me up. I wasn’t aware of how dangerous it could be. When I got involved with this film, it really changed my perspective on things. I have a friend who was involved with someone on the internet and I had to give her a long talk about it. It was shocking. Definitely, opened my eyes to things and I’m more cautious and open to my parents about everything. They know my passwords and everything.
Question: What does directing do for you that acting doesn’t? Will you continue to direct more?
David Schwimmer: It’s an opportunity to tell the story. I love both. I love being able to help someone else and tell their story, but I like being the storyteller. It takes a lot longer to direct though. This was seven years in development and two and half years from pre-production to here. That takes me out of the acting game for a longer chunk of time.
Question: Would you consider signing on to direct as opposed to directing a passion project such as Trust?
David Schwimmer: I don’t know because it takes so much time and energy and if I’m going to do something, I want to put everything into it and I want it to mean something to me. At 44, I think life’s too short. I want it to mean something to me if I’m going to spend that much time to do it.
Question: Would you ever direct yourself?
David Schwimmer: I don’t know. Maybe (laughs).
Question: You started doing post production as you were doing the stage production of this. Could you tell us about how the stage production influenced your decisions in post? Tell me about your involvement with the Rape Foundation.
David Schwimmer: It was interesting to be editing the film in New York and directing the play in Chicago. One definitely informed the other. Probably the play benefited more, because I realized what scenes could be cut and I probably cut those scenes from the play. In terms of my involvement with the Rape Foundation, I’ve been on the Board of Directors for the last ten years and been involved for the last fourteen years. It’s an amazing organization and it’s in the community here. It serves as a model for nationally and internationally for other programs, especially for the treatment of child victims. I continue to help raise money and be an advocate and do as much publicity as possible for them.
Question: Catherine said earlier that kids aren’t stranger-phobic anymore. Do you think it’s because of the internet?
Catherine Keener: I’m not sure. I think we forget to tell them, first of all.
David Schwimmer: I think a huge amount of it is because of the internet. Everything is accessible with a few clicks. Almost every child by the age of thirteen has seen pornography. That’s clearly different. It used to be really hard as a thirteen year-old or really humiliating (laughing). Seriously, at 13, if you wanted to look at a Playboy, it was really challenging. To find them today, it’s a joke. This movie, we hope, is about parenting in the age of technology.
Clive Owen: The internet has changed radically how kids relate to each other. There is kind of a false safety when you’re sitting in your bedroom, typing out conversations, you think it’s very safe because you’re not actually there. When I was young, you did it face to face, you related and found things out through engaging. It’s not the same anymore. Today kids have intense relationships through typing but it’s not real. They’re not really experiencing the intimacy of the relationship.
That concludes our interview but we’d like to thank David, Clive, Catherine and Liana for talking to us. Be sure to check out Trust when it hits theatres on April 1st!