Skip to main content

A Saga In The Ozarks, Suited For The Screen.

Filmmaker Debra Granik knew right away that she wanted to adapt Daniel Woodrell's 2006 novel Winter's Bone for the big screen. Granik and Woodrell discuss the process of turning the meth-fueled family drama into an award-winning film.

27:40

Other segments from the episode on June 16, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 16, 2010: Interview with Marisa Tomei; Interview with Daniel Woodrell and Debra Granik.

Transcript

*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20100616
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
Marisa Tomei: From 'Cousin Vinny' To 'Cyrus'

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Our guest, Marisa Tomei, won an Oscar when she was 28 for her role as a brash,
dolled-up, Brooklyn-born ordo buff in the film "My Cousin Vinny." She later
earned Oscar nominations for dramatic roles in the films "In the Bedroom" and
"The Wrestler."

She co-stars in the new movie "Cyrus" with John C. Reilly. He plays a divorced
man who, after meeting Tomei, thinks he's finally found the perfect woman. To
learn more about her, he follows her home, where he discovers she lives with
her 21-year-old son Cyrus, with whom she's unusually close. Cyrus is played by
Jonah Hill.

The son feels displaced and threatened by his mother's new boyfriend. The
boyfriend is uncomfortable with how close the son is to his mother, but neither
is letting on. In this scene, just after that first meeting between the son and
the boyfriend, John C. Reilly decides to stay over at Marisa Tomei's place for
the first time. Reilly and Tomei are talking in her bedroom.

(Soundbite of film, "Cyrus")

Ms. MARISA TOMEI (Actor): (As Molly) I really appreciated what you were
expressing in the kitchen, and I appreciate how open you were. I love that
about you, and I'm sorry that I wasn't as open about my life.

Mr. JOHN C. REILLY (Actor): (As John) No, that's fine. It's your...

Ms. TOMEI: (As Molly) Yeah, I know...

Mr. REILLY: (As John) ...prerogative not to say that stuff. You know, it's
private. We just met.

Ms. TOMEI: (As Molly) He's very mature, I think, and can see in a lot of ways,
and he really pushes me. But in other ways, he's just, he's not come into
himself yet. This is a very sudden – you are very sudden, and I haven't had a
man over to stay overnight since Cyrus was born.

Mr. REILLY: (As John) But to tell you the truth, you didn't have me over. I
stalked you over.

Ms. TOMEI: (As Molly) Yeah, you gave it a little – thanks for talking to me.
No, we leave the door open.

Mr. REILLY: (As John) Oh, I was just going to take my pants off. I didn't
want...

Ms. TOMEI: (As Molly) We just always leave the door open.

Mr. REILLY: (As John) Um, okay.

GROSS: Marisa Tomei spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.

DAVE DAVIES: Marisa Tomei, welcome to FRESH AIR. This new film, "Cyrus," is
really interesting both because of the plot, you play a woman with a son with
an extraordinarily close relationship, an adult son, a 21-year-old son, I
guess, but it's also interesting because it's directed by Mark and Jay Duplass,
who are – I guess this is their first bigger budget mainstream film. But
they're known for a really unique way of making films. Do you want to kind of
describe their technique, as you experienced it?

Ms. TOMEI: Yes, they work very uniquely from anyone that I've worked with. They
write together, direct together. They work really intimately with everybody on
the crew, which is also a small crew, and with the actors. And they use a lot
of improvisation, and they told me in our first meeting one of the unique
things about them was that they say we don't know a lot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TOMEI: So we'll come to a scene probably, Marisa, and we'll just say we
don't know what we're going to do with this scene. And we'll all work it out
together. And that's when they had my heart, and that's when they really
captured me. Because I know that saying I don't know is really a really
creative place, and when people really trust themselves enough to say I don't
know, that's when you really start get cooking.

DAVIES: Have you done a lot of improvisation before?

Ms. TOMEI: You know, intermittently in different scenes, like finessing
dialogue, but in this case, it was like that was the mandate ahead of time. So
even though the script – they wrote a great script. It wasn't just a blueprint.
It was a finely tuned script with great characters and great dialogue. And many
days, Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly and I said we love the script. Can we just
use the script today?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TOMEI: And they prefer to break it apart and, well, let's just see what
comes out. Let's play with it. And sometimes we circle back to what we have in
the script. Other times, we tossed it out.

DAVIES: This is about, of course, an odd kind of love triangle, in a way, in
which you're the fulcrum. You have this relationship with John C. Reilly, but
you have this very, very close relationship with your son, played by Jonah
Hill, who I guess is 21, right, in the script.

Ms. TOMEI: Yeah.

DAVIES: And, you know, it's a relationship that's so close, it could be
regarded as unhealthy. How did you get a feel for that relationship, making it
real?

Ms. TOMEI: You know, because you're going to play this person, you can't judge
them ahead of time. So, like, I wasn't reading going oh, this is really
unhealthy, and how am I going to play this unhealthy person. It's like seeing
it through the lens of why she thinks that everything she's doing is right.

So I approached it in the sense of they are great friends. They have a great
relationship. They truly enjoy each other's company. And they've lived a very
artsy and more bohemian kind of life. And they laugh well together. So I just
saw it as more of just really great friends. And that part of it is really
healthy. And, you know, the down side with her is, it's just he needs to get
out of the house.

DAVIES: Needs to find his life, right, right. You know, in the production notes
to the film, one of the directors, Mark Duplass, says we don't write female
characters all that well, and Marisa did a great job of fixing that stuff up
for us. And I think his brother said you really stood up for the character. Do
you know what they mean?

Ms. TOMEI: I don't know exactly what they mean, but I know that I was concerned
that she would be a bit of a patsy because the rivalry between her son and her
lover is really palpable, and her son is kind of a pain in the arse a lot of
the times. So how come she's not seeing this?

So we have to make sure it's not in front of her face, and we have to make sure
that she's intelligent and leading with her heart. And that's okay to make some
mistakes when you're leading with your heart, but she can't be played for a
fool. So we discussed that a lot. And they really watched out for her.

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is actress Marisa Tomei. She has
won an Academy Award and been nominated for others. She's starring with John C.
Reilly and Jonah Hill in the new film "Cyrus."

Well, I wanted to talk about "The Wrestler," which earned you an Academy Award
nomination I guess last year. You star with Mickey Rourke, who plays an aging
wrestler, and you're a stripper in a club. And I read that when you were
preparing for this role that you went and talked to strippers at clubs in New
Jersey. I'm just – what did you ask them? What did you learn?

Ms. TOMEI: Yeah, I mean, I did. I mean, more in L.A.

DAVIES: Okay.

Ms. TOMEI: I hung out with a bunch of girls and somewhat in New York. What did
I learn? You know what I learned? It's all true. Guys are pretty simple at the
end of the day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

And I also thought that that character really mirrored – I mean, we didn't
really explore it that much in that film, but what I learned from them was that
what Mickey's character was going through in terms of his body being his job
and it starting to fail him and some of the things he had to do physically
taking its toll — like honestly, just those heels alone cause a lot of
backaches for those girls.

And we didn't really get into that, but the stuff that Mickey's character is
going through, it's the same that she's going through, too, putting her full
body on the line every day just to survive.

DAVIES: Right. And approaching at some point the notion that, you know, it's
not going to be...

Ms. TOMEI: Got to hang it up.

DAVIES: Yeah, it's not going to work anymore.

Ms. TOMEI: Yeah, yeah.

DAVIES: Well, let's listen to a scene. This is well into the film, and this is
at a moment where Mickey Rourke, the wrestler, has come to the club where
you're working, and of course, he's infatuated with your character. And he has
just given you a thank you card because you had helped him pick out some
clothes for his estranged daughter. And let's listen to some of the interaction
here.

Ms. TOMEI: Okay.

(Soundbite of film, "The Wrestler")

Ms. TOMEI: (As Cassidy) Thank you, that's very sweet.

Mr. MICKEY ROURKE (Actor): (As Randy) Hey, thank you. I mean, come on, baby,
you saved my ass. What?

Ms. TOMEI: (As Cassidy) I can't do this.

Mr. ROURKE: (As Randy) Can't do what?

Ms. TOMEI: (As Cassidy) This.

Mr. ROURKE: (As Randy) I thought we had a little something going on here.

Ms. TOMEI: (As Cassidy) No, well, I think you're awesome. I think that you're a
great guy.

Mr. ROURKE: (As Randy) So what's the problem?

Ms. TOMEI: (As Cassidy) You think that I'm, like, this stripper, and I'm not.
I'm a mom. I have responsibilities. I have a son. Anyway, you don't want that
(BEEP) luggage, so...

Mr. ROURKE: (As Randy) What if I do?

Ms. TOMEI: (As Cassidy) I can't go there.

Mr. ROURKE: (As Randy) What about the other day?

Ms. TOMEI: (As Cassidy) It was a mistake.

Mr. ROURKE: (As Randy) It didn't feel like a mistake to me.

Ms. TOMEI: (As Cassidy) The club and the real world, they don't mix.

Mr. ROURKE: (As Randy) Yeah. Well, I'll tell you, I think that's a lot of
(BEEP) because I think you still feel something.

Ms. TOMEI: (As Cassidy) You're a customer, okay? You're a (BEEP) customer. I
don't go out with customers. You got it?

DAVIES: And that's our guest, Marisa Tomei, and Mickey Rourke in the film "The
Wrestler."

Ms. TOMEI: Yeah.

DAVIES: You know, the other thing about this role for you is there's just – you
have to appear nude a lot. I read that earlier in your career, you would use a
body double in scenes like that. Was it - I don't know. What was it like? Was
it hard to get comfortable with showing so much of yourself in this role?

Ms. TOMEI: Well, in reference to the earlier on, I think I just really had to
do – I never really had to do anything like this. I think there was, like, one
thing in "Slums of Beverly Hills," like a little shower moment or whatever, and
that was just – I was a young girl and definitely wanted to feel, you know,
super-protected.

In this, I had already done "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," so that kind
of broke me in.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TOMEI: That was – that broke the ice. And that was with Sidney Lumet
directing. And he was very paternal and protective, and I wasn't sure if it was
the right thing even to do. I just really career-wise, like, is this cool for
me to be doing right now at this stage?

But I really, really wanted to work with Lumet and Phil Hoffman and Ethan Hawke
and so, you know, I took the chance, and then it was fine. And so after I had
done that it was really, kind of, oh, again? Next year? Really? I couldn't
believe that those two things were on the heels of each other, and it looked
like some kind of weird plan that I had, but it was just happenstance.

DAVIES: And when you said you wondered if it was the right thing to do at kind
of at this time in your career, was it?

Ms. TOMEI: Yeah, well, it turned out fine. Both of those movies are really good
movies. On a personal level, I'm really happy that I did them and got to work
with those people, and they were very well-received. So that's always a bonus.

DAVIES: We're speaking with actor Marisa Tomei. She stars with John C. Reilly
and Jonah Hill in the new film "Cyrus." We'll talk more after a break. This is
FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: We're speaking with Marisa Tomei. She stars with Jonah Hill and John C.
Reilly in the new film "Cyrus."

Well, we have to talk about "My Cousin Vinny," which you won the Oscar for,
this terrific film where you are Joe Pesci's fiance, he the new Brooklyn lawyer
heading down to get his cousins out of a jam in Alabama. They've gotten
involved in a murder case that they weren't really involved in.

And we're going to listen to this well-known scene in which you have taken the
stand to crack the case because of your understanding of cars and car
mechanics. And this is a moment where the prosecutor, played by Lane Smith,
tries to disqualify you by questioning your expertise.

(Soundbite of film, "My Cousin Vinny")

Mr. LANE SMITH (Actor): (As Jim Trotter III) Can you tell me: What would the
correct ignition timing be on a 1955 Bel Air Chevrolet with a 327-cubic-inch
engine and a four-barrel carburetor?

Ms. TOMEI: (As Mona Lisa Vito) That's a (BEEP) question.

Mr. SMITH: (As Trotter) Does that mean that you can't answer?

Ms. TOMEI: (As Vito) It's a (BEEP) question. It's impossible to answer.

Mr. SMITH: (As Trotter) Impossible because you don't know the answer.

Ms. TOMEI: (As Vito) Nobody could answer that question.

Mr. SMITH: (As Trotter) Your Honor, I move to disqualify Ms. Vito as an expert
witness.

Mr. FRED GWYNNE (Actor): (As Judge Chamberlain Haller) Can you answer the
question?

Ms. TOMEI: (As Vito) No. It is a trick question.

Mr. GWYNNE: (As Haller) Why is it a trick question?

Mr. JOE PESCI (Actor): (As Vinny Gambini) Watch this.

Ms. TOMEI: (As Vito) Because Chevy didn't make a 327 in '55. The 327 didn't
come out until '62. And it wasn't offered in the Bel Air with the four-barrel
carb till '64. However, in 1964, the correct ignition timing would be four
degrees before top dead center.

Mr. SMITH: (As Trotter) Well, uh, she's acceptable, Your Honor.

DAVIES: That was my guest, Marisa Tomei, in the film "My Cousin Vinny." You
also heard some of Joe Pesci and Fred Gwynne and, of course, Lane Smith the
prosecutor.

You know, Marisa Tomei, you grew up in Brooklyn. Did you ever sound like this
character, Mona Lisa Vito?

Ms. TOMEI: I don’t think that extreme, but I could be wrong.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TOMEI: My mom is – well, she was an English teacher, and she was on my butt
about that kind of thing and correcting my speech from a young age.

DAVIES: This was, of course, huge for you. I mean, you got, you know, the
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. How did that affect the roles that
you were offered afterward?

Ms. TOMEI: I was offered a lot of comedies, which is great. And I didn't really
know how to pick and choose, and I knew that I was most interested in a variety
of characters. And it wasn't in contrast to oh, now I don't want to play this
because I want to get away from this image. It was more: Well, what else is out
there? I'm curious.

DAVIES: I thought I'd read that you had done Shakespeare in New York after
this. I was wondering if you were...

Ms. TOMEI: I did. I did Shakespeare in the Park right after that, yeah.

DAVIES: Right, but it wasn't like you felt you had to retreat into something
that was more serious.

Ms. TOMEI: No, I mean, if anything, my – if there was any retreats, it was just
going back to the theater again and again because moviemaking was foreign to me
and not where I felt particularly safe and really not as satisfied. And so I
just kept doing plays like I had always done.

DAVIES: That's interesting you said you didn't feel as safe on a movie set. In
a movie, you can get as many takes as you want to get it right. On the stage,
you're right there in front of the audience.

Ms. TOMEI: For me, and certainly at that time, being in a rehearsal room with
just a handful of people and having time to work on the script together and
mostly I'm talking about in a social way, get to know your fellow artists and
get to know each other in a kind of more relaxed way. But I just felt better in
the theater.

DAVIES: Well, there's another moment in your career that we have to talk about,
and I want to introduce this with a clip, and it's actually not of you but more
about you. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of television program, "Seinfeld")

Mr. JASON ALEXANDER (Actor): (As George Costanza) Let me ask you something. You
ever hear of Marisa Tomei?

Mr. JERRY SEINFELD (Actor): (As Jerry Seinfeld) The actress?

Mr. ALEXANDER: (As George) Yeah, she's something, isn't she?

Mr. SEINFELD: (As Jerry) Oh, yeah.

Mr. ALEXANDER: (As George) Well, you know Katie, Elaine's friend?

Mr. SEINFELD: (As Jerry) Yeah.

Mr. ALEXANDER: (As George) She happens to be very good friends with her.

Mr. SEINFELD: (As Jerry) Marisa Tomei? How does she know Marisa Tomei?

Mr. ALEXANDER: (As George) I don't know. I didn't ask.

Mr. SEINFELD: (As Jerry) You didn't ask how she knows Marisa Tomei?

Mr. ALEXANDER: (As George) Not the point. Can I finish?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEINFELD: (As Jerry) Go ahead. It seems like a reasonable question, that's
all I'm saying. I would've asked.

Mr. ALEXANDER: (As George) All right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ALEXANDER: (As George) So she said that she could have fixed me up with
her.

Mr. SEINFELD: (As Jerry) What do you mean could have?

Mr. ALEXANDER: (As George) Well, you know, if I wasn't engaged.

Mr. SEINFELD: (As Jerry) Oh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ALEXANDER: (As George) Could've fixed me with up with Marisa Tomei. She
said I was just her type.

Mr. SEINFELD: (As Jerry) Really?

Mr. ALEXANDER: (As George) Yeah, yeah. Do you know the odds of me being
anyone's type?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ALEXANDER: (As George) I have never been anyone's type, but apparently,
this Marisa Tomei loves funny, quirky, bald men.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEINFELD: (As Jerry) You know she won an Academy Award.

Mr. ALEXANDER: (As George) Like I don't know that. "My Cousin Vinny," I love
that.

DAVIES: And that, of course, is from the series "Seinfeld," Jerry Seinfeld and
Jason Alexander talking about our guest, Marisa Tomei.

I don't know if you're sick of hearing about this or not. You obviously – I
assume that they talked about this whole plotline with you before they wrote
the scripts, right?

Ms. TOMEI: No.

DAVIES: No?

Ms. TOMEI: They just called and asked if I wanted to, you know, come and be a
guest on their show. And the later, I said, well, why did you even choose me?
And they just said: We like the rhythm of your name.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TOMEI: It really had nothing to do with me. We like saying your name,
Marisa Tomei.

DAVIES: So that was it, Marisa Tomei.

Ms. TOMEI: Yeah, and, well, and the bit that you just played, I really heard
that. They just really used it as, you know, a comic vehicle, yeah, comic
rhythm, yeah.

DAVIES: Well, did you know that the plotline was that George Costanza would
have a shot at you because you love funny, quirky, bald men?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TOMEI: I didn't. I didn't know. But a lot of funny, quirky, bald men are
happy because they're always talking to me about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Oh, really? Do people come up to you?

Ms. TOMEI: Yeah, yeah.

DAVIES: Well, I've got to ask. What do you think of funny, quirky, bald men?

Ms. TOMEI: I set myself up, didn't I? I guess they're one of my types. I don't
think I have a type.

DAVIES: All right, guys. You still have a shot. And for folks who don't watch
the show or may not remember, what happens, of course, is that George is
engaged, and because a friend knows Marisa Tomei, he eventually arranges a
meeting and it goes terrifically. And you just love him because he's a funny,
quirky, bald guy, and then he finally reveals that, indeed, he's engaged. And
you slug him and walk off.

You got into acting early, if I know the story right, dropped out of college
and quickly got a role on "As The World Turns," the soap opera. Is that right?

Ms. TOMEI: I actually, I had a, you know, a line or two in "Flamingo Kid"...

DAVIES: Right.

Ms. TOMEI: ...the Matt Dillon movie that Garry Marshall directed, and I was
just auditioning through Backstage, the trade newspaper, general audition
calls, and I just happened to get that job. So even though I was in school, and
"The Flamingo Kid" thing was during the summer, I didn't know how many
opportunities I might or might not have.

So I talked with my parents about it, and my mom was - said stay in school, and
my father said take this chance. And so I took the chance.

DAVIES: What was your character like? Do you remember?

Ms. TOMEI: She was kind of a nut job. I think she was just really like an
introverted, kind of perverse, forlorn character. Finally, someone in the town
befriended me, a girl my age, and then I wound up falling in love with her
father and, like, ruining his wedding. And it was just, it was kind of bizarre.
I didn't stay on that show very long. I was supposed to stay longer, and I
wound up getting fired from them, but so...

DAVIES: You got fired? What happened?

Ms. TOMEI: I mean, no scandal happened. I was really actually happy to leave
because I wasn't happy on that show, not – I mean, everyone was really kind to
me and it was a good job, but I was lonely. All my friends were at school, and
I was just getting my feet wet in Manhattan.

Nothing awful happened, but I was a little depressed.

DAVIES: But it worked. I mean, you got more work and made your way into films.
But you want to keep coming back to theater, right? You still do that?

Ms. TOMEI: Yeah, yeah, I did "Top Girls" last year on Broadway.

DAVIES: Well, Marisa Tomei, thanks so much for spending some time with us.

Ms. TOMEI: Thank you.

GROSS: Marisa Tomei spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. She stars in
the new movie "Cyrus." You can see clips from the film on our website,
freshair.npr.org. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
127856233
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20100616
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
A Saga In The Ozarks, Suited For The Screen

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Our film critic David Edelstein called "Winter's Bone" the year's most stirring
film. "Winter's Bone" won the Grand Jury Prize for drama at this year's
Sundance Film Festival.

My guest is the director of the film, Debra Granik, and the author of the novel
that it's based on, Daniel Woodrell.

"Winter's Bone" is set in the Ozarks, in a poor community where people have
turned to cooking meth to make a living. The main character, Ree Dolly, played
by Jennifer Lawrence, is a 17-year-old girl who's taking care of her two young
siblings because her mother is mentally ill and her father, who cooks meth, has
gone missing. After being arrested and putting the family home up for his bail
bond, he disappears. Unless Ree finds him, she will lose the family's home and
have no where to go. To find out where her father might be, she goes to the
homes of relatives and other people her father knows, most of whom are also in
the meth business. They're not interested in talking.

In this scene, Ree is looking for Thump Milton, the leader of this meth
underworld. As she approaches Thump's house, she's met by his wife, played by
Dale Dickey.

(Soundbite of movie, "Winter's Bone")

(Soundbite of dogs barking)

Ms. DALE DICKEY (Actor): (as Merab) You got the wrong place, I expect. Who
might you be?

Ms. JENNIFER LAWRENCE (Actor): (as Ree Dolly) I'm Ree. My dad's Jessup Dolly.

(Soundbite of dogs barking)

Ms. DICKEY: (as Merab) You ain't here for trouble, are you?

Ms. LAWRENCE: (as Ree Dolly) No, ma'am.

Ms. DICKEY: (as Merab) 'Cause one of my nephews is Buster Leroy, and didn't he
shoot your daddy at one time?

Ms. LAWRENCE: (as Ree Dolly) Yes. But that ain't got nothing to do with me.
They settled that their selves, I think.

Ms. DICKEY: (as Merab) Shooting him likely settled it. What is it you want?

Ms. LAWRENCE: (as Ree Dolly) I got a real bad need to talk with Thump.

Ms. DICKEY: (as Merab) And he ain't got no need to talk to you.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

Ms. LAWRENCE: (as Ree Dolly) But I need to. I really, really got to, ma'am.
Please. Some of our blood at least is the same. Ain't that supposed to mean
something? Isn't that what it always says?

Ms. DICKEY: (as Merab) Ain't you got no men could do this?

Ms. LAWRENCE: (as Ree Dolly) No, ma'am. I don't.

(Soundbite of dogs barking)

Ms. DICKEY: (as Merab) You go wait in the yard somewhere by that coop, and I'll
tell Thump you're here.

Ms. LAWRENCE: (as Ree Dolly) Thanks.

GROSS: That's a scene from "Winter's Bone," the movie adaptation by Debra
Granik, of Daniel Woodrell's novel.

Debra Granik, Daniel Woodrell, welcome to FRESH AIR. Now, the woman - the man
that Ree, the character in that scene, is trying to see, Thump - Daniel
Woodrell, in your novel "Winter's Bone," you described him as having a face
that's a monument of Ozark stone with juts and angles and cold-shaded parts the
sun never touched. His voice held raised hammers and long shadows. That's a man
I don't want to meet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Now that we heard a scene from the film, Daniel Woodrell, let me ask you
to do a short reading from the book that the movie is adapted from. And this is
another scene in which Ree is trying to find out what happened to her father
now that he's skipped bail. And in this scene, she goes to see her father's
brother. And would you read that scene for us?

Mr. DANIEL WOODRELL (Author, "Winter's Bone"): Sure.

(Reading) What's this all about, anyhow?

I got to find dad and make sure he shows in court.

That's a man's personal choice, little girl. That's not something you ought to
be butting your smarty nose into. Show or don't show, that choice is up to the
one's that going to jail to make, not you.

Uncle Teardrop was Jessup's elder and had been a crank chef longer, but he'd
had a lab go wrong it had eaten the left ear off his head and burned a savage,
melted scar down his neck to the middle of his back. There wasn't enough ear
nub remaining to hang sunglasses on. The hair around the ear was gone, too, and
the scar on his neck showed above his collar.

Three blue teardrops done in jailhouse ink fell in a row from the corner of the
eye on his scarred side. Folks said the teardrops meant he three times done
grizzly prison deeds that needed doing, but didn't need to be gabbed about.
They said the teardrops told you everything you had to know about the man, and
the lost ear just repeated it. He generally tried to sit with his melted side
to the wall.

GROSS: That's Daniel Woodrell, reading from his novel "Winter's Bone," which is
adapted to the new film of the same name by Debra Granik.

Debra, why did you want to adapt this book? How did you first discover it?

Ms. DEBRA GRANIK (Filmmaker): We were lucky to receive a copy of the book
before publication. And Anne Rosellini, who made the film with me, we had been
looking for a very long time for a female protagonist that we could recognize
very readily as being someone that would shine out on screen, and this was a
very irresistible book to us. And the story was one that seemed that it would
adapt very well, the way that Daniel had constructed it. So it was Ree, it was
the rich descriptions of the area and it was also the very, very tight
structure.

GROSS: Did you ask Daniel Woodrell for his help in showing you that part of the
country, the Ozarks?

Ms. GRANIK: Most definitely. He got a call from me and Anne. It was probably at
that point quite out of the blue, and we asked if we could come down to his
neck of the woods. And we did meet with him and his wife, and they proceeded to
hook us up with a couple very important first interviews and first veins to
certain kinds of information, and also physical places.

GROSS: Daniel, what are some of the things you most wanted Debra to know about
your area that you drew on for the novel that you felt that she needed to
understand?

Mr. WOODRELL: Well, it's been a way of life for a long time. To me, the Ozarks
was more or less settled by people who largely wanted to be left alone,
originally. And there's still just a strong thread of that running through a
lot of the people who've been here a while, the sense of privacy and don't ask
too many questions about other people's business. And there's so much physical
beauty, and yet, it's always been difficult to make a living in the Ozarks. So
there's a lot of the attendant poverty that goes along with that. And yet it's
in such a beautiful setting that I really wanted her to appreciate that.

GROSS: Debra, what struck you most that you hadn't seen before?

Ms. GRANIK: I feel like I hadn't seen a variety of hand-built houses. That was
not familiar to me, or houses that may have had one part built from another
form of housing, but yet a form of trailer or a kit house and then additions or
small add-ons very much built as needed, or as could be afforded. The texture
of people's homes were extremely rich and diverse.

I feel like I did not - I thought maybe it was lore and cliche or just a
fantasy that maybe other people in the country have of mountain regions that
music would be alive and well. And I found that to be like absolutely factually
true, and that wowed me. I feel like - I thought maybe that would be only
relegated to certain kinds of performances or places where you would pay for
music, and found it was very different, that it was very much incorporated into
life.

GROSS: Did you decide to shoot in actual homes as opposed to a set?

Ms. GRANIK: We did. Mm-hmm. We did choose to shoot in actually homes. It
would've been a very difficult feat and probably with very little fruit to,
like, try to imitate those homes or build a set that replicates it. Instead, we
did come to believe that the only way that we would get the film just jammed
with visual detail that was very precise and very much from those coordinates
where we were filming was to actually go the full tilt and say do - could we,
over time, gain access to collaborate with certain families and then work on
their properties, film. And that, in the end, meant like, basically, from A to
Z.

It was people's vehicles, their clothing, objects in their home, and
eventually, in one case, it ended up being the daughter of the family who ended
up playing Ree's younger sister.

GROSS: Oh. So you just cast the girl who lived in the house?

Ms. GRANIK: In the end, we did. She ended up being such an integral part of the
crew. And the preparation for the film, as we auditioned boys, the role was
written for a boy. The novel has Ree having two boy siblings, and we auditioned
and we looked and we searched and we came close a couple times, and they just
didn't quite seem to feel like they could be from that place. And - but Ashley
did, every time. Every time we had a rehearsal, she would be caught in the
videotape, and I would say she really reads like she's, you know, she is from
here. She's working.

GROSS: Daniel Woodrell, the missing father in your novel "Winter's Bone" cooks
crank, and everyone in the extended family seems to be involved in the
business. Why did you want to write about characters who cook and sell meth?

Mr. WOODRELL: Well, it's been a pretty widespread issue around here for the
last 15 or 20 years, I suppose. And from my own house, I could throw rock and
hit a meth cook right now. And it's just pretty ingrained, and it's a way to
make some quick, easy money. You don't really have to be a master scientist to
cook it or anything, and you can turn a quick profit. And it's just, for
whatever reason, it really took hold here perhaps earlier and more strongly
than it did in many other parts of the country.

GROSS: How has it changed your area?

Mr. WOODRELL: Well, there's been a lot of criminal activity associated with it.
And anybody who's seen people before they started it and then after they'd been
doing it hard for a couple of years can see the physical toll is often pretty
drastic. And in my own neighborhood, we've, at one point, we had a number of
people nearby who were engaged. And when they've been using crank for a few
days in a row, you don't know what they might do. So - and all manner of things
did happen.

GROSS: Like what?

Mr. WOODRELL: Broad-daylight violence. I used to have a neighbor who'd chase
his girlfriend-wife with a table leg after he'd been up too long in broad
daylight, down the middle of the road. And things like that were happening,
petty crime.

GROSS: So when you saw your neighbor chase his wife with a leg of a table, did
you call the police or just let them to do their thing?

Mr. WOODRELL: We went out.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. WOODRELL: My wife won't let me just stand there if somebody's going after
his wife like that. So at one point in, like, two years, we had six domestics
that were so close to our front door, we felt required to be the ones to go out
and break it up. And that was all happening then, and it hasn't happened again
now in some years, so - all associated with the burgeoning of meth in the
neighborhood.

My guests are Debra Granik, the director of the new movie "Winter's Bone," and
Daniel Woodrell, the author of the novel it's based on.

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is the director of the new movie "Winter's Bone," Debra Granik,
and the author of the novel it's based on, Daniel Woodrell.

Debra, your previous movie was about a woman who's a coke addict. She was
played by Vera Farmiga, and she's the mother of two - just as in your new
movie, Ree is the older sister of two children, and she's basically bringing
them up on her own. So it's a combination of taking care of children and drugs
that hold these two movies together - that and the fact that the word bone is
in the title of both of them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So tell us why stories where drugs have an impact on a woman taking care
of children are stories that you want to tell.

Ms. GRANIK: I think in these situations, the stakes are just so high when drug
use is an issue and children are present, so that the behaviors of a female who
is responsible for children, it's just the pressures to do the right thing are
even higher. The responsibilities are even higher. And I think that part of
what fuels Ree in Daniel's novel is that she does feel the stakes are high for
her. It's not just whether she could go out and sort of make her way and escape
a bad situation, but that she does feel that she has these two young people
that are very much tied to her, their wellbeing is completely tied to her.

And so I feel like in any novel or film, the - that responsibility - that
existential responsibility, if you will, raises the stakes of what that
protagonist is going to do, what choices she will make, what moves she'll make.

GROSS: Daniel Woodrell, in Esquire magazine in 2007, in the Esquire 100 issue,
you were number 63. And your entry was written by Benjamin Percy. And I want to
quote what he had to say about your novel. He said: Pick one up, and you'll
find blood and hay, barbed wire and whiskey, a Ziploc bag of crank. You'll find
barroom brawls and trailer-park meth labs, guns, a stripper with peroxide-blond
hair. These are books for men.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I think that's kind of funny, since Debra, you adapted one of his books
into a movie and really related to the fact that it had a strong woman
character. So, Daniel, let me start with you. Is Ree an unusual character for
you? Is it unusual for you to be telling a story from a woman's point of view?

Mr. WOODRELL: Well, in a way she's sort of the combination of or an elaboration
on some female characters that I've kind of written about all along, usually in
smaller roles. But I think I've always included a lot of women in my books and
they're usually pretty potent women. But in this instance, she just was clearly
the straw that stirred everything here. And once I started writing on it she
became more and more prominent and I realized it's basically going to be all
her.

GROSS: And Debra, does it strike you as funny that in Esquire, Daniel's books
were described as books for men and you so related to the story - you so much
wanted to tell the story of a strong woman?

Ms. GRANIK: Oh, you know, I didn’t know about the Esquire label. But I must say
that Daniel gets huge props around the world, at this point, for writing women
that women in the audience are enjoying hugely and I get asked is the Ozarks a
matriarchy, quite frequently, which, you know, I always have to pause and sort
of figure out how to answer that.

GROSS: I don’t want to give away too much of the movie, so I'll just say here
that there is a scene where a couple of women beat up another woman. And then a
man basically wants to know like what, you know, did a man hit her? And so one
of the women says - this is how she says it in the movie. She says: No man hit
her. I put the hurt on her. And in the book the way she says it is: No man here
touched that crazy girl. I drubbed her good myself.

So there seems to be almost a code here, that like, bad for a man to hit a
woman. Okay for a woman to hit a woman.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Daniel, is that the code?

Mr. WOODRELL: Well, I wouldn’t say it's code, but I think there might be some
ancient perception that that's a fair fight.

GROSS: Right. Right. Is that why you did it that way?

Mr. WOODRELL: Yes. Yes. And I have seen a few women brawls that were every bit
as nasty as anything I've seen men do, so it definitely happens.

GROSS: Where did you witness them?

Mr. WOODRELL: Just at different establishments around my life and places. And
one was in the Ramada Inn parking lot, actually one of the most savage I ever
saw in broad daylight.

GROSS: What happened?

Mr. WOODRELL: A finger got bit off.

GROSS: Whoa.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WOODRELL: Yeah. And she spit it at the other woman's foot.

GROSS: Oh no.

Mr. WOODRELL: And I thought no, I haven't even seen guys do that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Wow. That sounds...

Mr. WOODRELL: Well, they were serious about wanting to hurt each other.

GROSS: Sounds like she had some pretty sharp teeth among other things.

Mr. WOODRELL: Yeah, she did. She must've had to break it and gnaw a little to
get it off.

GROSS: Does this help explain why you write the books that you write?

Mr. WOODRELL: Partially. I mean most of the Ozarks life is so tranquil and
peaceful and easygoing that you have to kind of sometimes look for this part to
find it. It's here, but it's not the overwhelming daily experience or anything.
But I have, just by luck, or maybe my father said I had a real instinct for
finding these things. And so I just have one way or another been standing there
when enough happened to fill my imagination with what else could happen.

GROSS: And Debra, do you have that kind of interest in violence that people who
make violent films or write violent novels tend to have?

Ms. GRANIK: I can say no. I can say it’s another one, it's - you know, if you
talk about emotional zip codes or - that's definitely out of my zip code. And
I, you know, I struggled with that. And what I want to do about human violence
in representing it in films and it's me, I always have to put huge amount of
thought to and take a deep breath, because it doesn’t come easy to me to watch
it, witness it.

I do have one standard: If they're - first of all, if a person's capable of
remorse, I'm already interested, because I do understand that it's complex. So,
everything in this book seemed to have a very worthy reason to be there in
terms of how when violence does occur between people. I felt like I had an
understanding of why.

GROSS: So Debra, how did you start making movies?

Ms. GRANIK: I started in kind of documentary fashion in educational filmmaking
- training tapes. I worked with trade unions in Massachusetts and actually was
responsible for health and safety training films. But that - not but, and -
that meant that I was constantly meeting people that I would never have a
reason to cross paths with or would not have access to in their places of
employment with a huge amount of detail of their work life available for me,
you know, required of me to film.

So it was kind of a strange form a candy shop for me, because as someone who
was documenting as a living, I was given access to places that were endlessly,
you know, fascinating to actually film. Be it manufacturing sites, be it all
forms of employment throughout the state of Massachusetts, and it got me kind
of to be permanently, you know, the desire to permanently record and take notes
on people's lives.

GROSS: Now I read that your director of photography, Michael McDonough, helped
fund your movie through the money that he got shooting "Celebrity Apprentice."

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So, I just think that's kind of funny, you know, that he'd be shooting
"Celebrity Apprentice" and then be shooting this, you know, this Indie film.

Ms. GRANIK: We all have day jobs. I mean that was his day job. You know, up
until recently I shot weddings. You know, it's like his day job had him having
a paycheck, and he and we had the opportunity to option the book. And he came
running over after that check was released to him and we all went in a third
for the option. And, you know, that was his way of saying I don’t want to
deliberate on this anymore. You know, this is what I want to do. Here's my part
of it; you guys put yours in. And so we did.

GROSS: My guests are Debra Granik, the director of the new movie "Winter's
Bone" and Daniel Woodrell, the author of the novel it's based on.

We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guests are Debra Granik, who wrote and
directed the new movie "Winter's Bone," which is based on a novel by my other
guest, Daniel Woodrell.

Daniel, I'm going to ask you read another page from your novel, "Winter's
Bone." And in this paragraph, Ree Dolly, your main character, the 17-year-old
who's taking care of her two young siblings, is thinking about and worrying
about her sibling's future.

Mr. WOODRELL: (Reading) Ree's grand hope was that these boys would not be dead
to wonder by age 12, dulled to life, empty of kindness, boiling with mean. So
many Dolly kids were that way, ruined before they had chin hair, groomed to
live outside square law and abide by the remorseless blood-soaked commandments
that governed lives led outside square law. There were 200 Dollys who were
living within 30 miles of this valley. Some lived square lives, many did not,
but even the square-living Dollys were Dollys at heart and might be helpful kin
in a pinch. The rough Dollys were plenty peppery and hard-boiled toward one
another, but were unleashed hell on enemies, scornful of town law and town
ways, clinging to their own.

GROSS: So in your novel "Winter's Bone," Ree, the main character is considering
joining the military. You were in the Marines. Why did you enlist?

Mr. WOODRELL: I was getting in just a little bit of mischief and it seemed like
the military would be a good idea all the way around. So I went in the week I
turned 17 and both my parents thought it was a good idea. So, it removed me
from the scene for a while.

GROSS: But it sounds like it didn’t work out the way you expected.

Mr. WOODRELL: No, there's trouble to be found there as well. And as my father
so often said, I found it, so.

GROSS: When did you start to write? I presume it was after you got out of the
Marines?

Mr. WOODRELL: That's when I began to more seriously investigate it. It seemed -
I was always attracted to the idea, I always loved books and my mother made
sure I knew how to read before I went off to school. And I knew pretty early on
that I'd like to be a writer if it was possible. It didn’t really seem possible
and it was after - it really wasn’t until my early 20s that I really decided to
dedicate myself to it, full tilt, and see if, in fact, you had the ability to
do it.

GROSS: How did you figure out what you were going to write about?

Mr. WOODRELL: For a long time I wrote stories about working class life. And I
had a professor say, you know, that's always going to be hard when you just do
straightforward kind of kitchen sink realism. And as I let that sink in for a
couple of years, I began to realize there were other kind of fiction I also
liked that could almost blend. They almost - they complimented each other,
really. Social...

GROSS: Who were you thinking of?

Mr. WOODRELL: Well, social realist fiction and crime fiction have a nice
overlap. So I was turned on by all the writers in the canon but I was also
always turned on by James M. Cain and Chandler and Thompson and all the others.

GROSS: A lot of book critics, in their reviews, have mentioned that you should
be better known than you are. That's kind of like a common refrain about you.

Mr. WOODRELL: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So you’ve heard that song sung a lot.

Mr. WOODRELL: Uh-huh.

GROSS: So, you know, it often works that once a movie's made, if it's adapted
from a book, the author of that book becomes a lot better known. Are you hoping
for that with this movie?

Mr. WOODRELL: I think it's unavoidable now, so I've decided to hope for it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, I hope you get it.

Mr. WOODRELL: Right. Thank you.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both so much for talking with us. Debra
Granik, congratulations on your new film "Winter's Bone," which is adapted from
my other guest, Daniel Woodrell's novel of the same name.

Thanks very much to you both.

Mr. WOODRELL: Oh, thank you so much. Enjoyed it.

Ms. GRANIK: Thank you.

GROSS: You can read an excerpt of "Winter's Bone" and see clips from the new
movie, "Winter's Bone" on our website, freshair.npr.org.

Well, I'm going to be out for a couple of days, which sadly makes today my
final day working with FRESH AIR producer Jonathan Menjivar who also produces
FRESH AIR WEEKEND. Not to make you feel guilty Jonathan, but your leaving is a
big loss.

I'm sure I can speak for all of us on our show when I say I'm going to miss
Jonathan as a great producer and as a great person. He's made my interviews
better with his insightful editing. And listening to the terrific opening
billboard Jonathan creates each Friday for FRESH AIR WEEKEND has been a
highlight of my week.

It's been great to collaborate with him and through that collaboration to get
to know him. We’ve watched Jonathan get married, move into a new home and just
a few months ago, become a father. And now we're watching him prepare for his
new job as a producer at "This American Life," which is particularly great for
him because that's the show that made him want to get into public radio.

We don’t need to tell Ira Glass how lucky he is to have Jonathan, it was Ira
who told us about five years ago how smart we'd be to hire Jonathan.

Jonathan, we know you'll be busy with a new job and your new baby, but please,
make sure you have time to stay in touch with your friends at FRESH AIR who
will miss you immensely.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller.

I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Think a tiny ant can't hurt you? Some species can sting bite and even
overwhelm and kill prey 10,000 times their size. Take the African driver ant.

Mr. MARK MOFFETT (Entomologist, ecologist, photographer and writer): They have
jaws like knives and so they can cut human flesh.

GROSS: On the next FRESH AIR ant expert Mark Moffett.

Join us for the next FRESH AIR.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
127831931

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

43:54

Chef David Chang On Depression, Being A Dad And The Burden Of 'Authenticity'

David Chang has won James Beard awards as a chef and restaurateur. His first and best known restaurant Momofuku started as very modest noodle bar in Manhattan’s east village. The food was influenced by the food he grew up with--food that used to embarrass him when he was growing up. His parents are from North Korea. He now has restaurant in NY, LA, Vegas, Toronto and Australia. He’s had bipolar disorder for many years and credits cooking and his restaurants with saving his life. He has a new memoir.

52:30

Vaccine Expert: Once A COVID Vaccine Is Available, 'Don't Overthink It. Don't Wait'

Dr. Peter Hotez is co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital, and says that a vaccine release could begin for selected populations by the middle of December — and that a broader vaccination effort could soon follow.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue