Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
Director Jamie Babbit on The Quiet and A Lot More
Expanded Edition from the 8/30/06 issue of Windy City Times
by Richard Knight, Jr.
Director Jamie Babbit at work on the set of The Quiet, the film's stars Camilla Belle and Elisha Cuthbert and Babbit with partner,
producer Andrea Sperling at the 2002 Sundance Festival
Director Jamie Babbit is rushing to the set of “The L Word” in Vancouver where she’s directing an upcoming episode. But in between
making a pit stop at Starbucks and looking over the day’s call sheet, she finds time to talk about The Quiet, her first feature since
the hilarious But I’m a Cheerleader. There was also time to chat about her appearance in the upcoming documentary, This Film Not Yet
Rated, working alongside her partner Andrea Sperling, who produces her movies, her television series work and her next movie.
Highlights from our conversation:
-- Potential Spoiler Alert --
WCT: The production notes on The Quiet say that you were attracted to the “perversity, comedy, and seriousness of the story” –
could you talk about that for a minute, please.
JB: Well I wanted to do something that was really different from Cheerleader and when I had first gotten the script from Joel
Michaely who was one of the actors in But I’m a Cheerleader – he gave me the script for The Quiet because he was friends with Abdi
and Micah the writers and they had just been to the Sundance Writers Lab and that was about all that had happened to the scripts –
and I read the first few pages and I just thought, ‘I’m not interested, it’s just another high school cheerleader movie’ and Joel said,
‘No, no it’s not – you’ve gotta keep reading.’ So I kept reading and then I thought, ‘Wow, this is really twisted.’
WCT: Uh, yeah—
JB: and I was interested in exploring the whole sexual abuse side of it and I just thought, ‘This is something I could be interested
in for a year and a half of my life.’ So I agreed to sign on.
WCT: You know the tone of the picture is really dark but it’s also really tantalizing in a way – the idea that all these characters are
confiding their darkest secrets to this deaf/mute person – or so they believe. Do you think the character of Dot would have been an
even more tantalizing (or less) confessional figure if she’d been a lesbian?
JB: You know, I kind of thought that Dot was a pre-lesbian. She was, you know, dealing with the death of her father and moving to
a new place so she’s not really in a place where she’s sexual but I do think she’s going to grow up and be a lesbian, yes.
WCT: That’s very interesting because I certainly detected an unresolved lesbian crush on the part of her and the other character,
Nina. I didn’t make that up, right?
JB: No, not at all. Actually, the Michelle character was supposed to definitely be a lesbian and in love with Nina. I mean they’re
both in love with Nina basically.
WCT: Okay, so I got that. Now back to those three adjectives – “perversity, comedy, seriousness” – would those three adjectives
also describe your filmmaking journey as an out lesbian director in such a male dominated industry?
JB: Comedy, perversity and what was the third one?
JB: (laughs) Yeah, probably. Actually, definitely.
WCT: It seems The Quiet falls in line with a lot of other cautionary tales about the affluent suburbia dream gone wrong – American
Beauty, The Ice Storm – movies like these and yours seem to point out this sort of distracted, mean spirited malaise that seems such
a part of our culture. Is that part of what drew you to the material, too?
JB: Oh yes, definitely. I’m definitely a part of suburbia. I was a latch key kid, growing up in suburban Ohio and I do think kids are
so bored that the things that happen are just horrible and I also think that the way suburban perfection is expected and meanwhile
there’s all this fucked up shit going on and that interests me. I think it was also because in some ways I was growing up with a
secret – you know, that I was gay and living in a J. Crew catalogue. So I just related to the idea of these girls having so many
WCT: There’s also a lot of ambiguity at the end of the movie. What would you like audiences, in particular gay audiences –
because that’s my crowd – to take away from the film?
JB: Definitely a feeling of empowerment that the two girls have saved each other; that they’ve both had issues with their father that
were unresolved. Dot in as much of a kind of spell under her father was as destructive as Nina under the spell of her father that was
really destructive. In the end it’s an empowerment tale.
WCT: Can you also talk for a minute about your cast because you assembled a great cast to pull this off.
JB: I had always wanted Elisha (Cuthbert) to play Nina because in my mind’s eye she physically looked exactly how I pictured her
and originally Thora Birch was actually playing Dot.
WCT: That’s interesting.
JB: Yeah but two weeks before shooting Thora Birch pulled out and so I had to find a Dot really quickly and I was lucky enough to
have seen The Ballad of Jack and Rose and in some ways that film was like a preface to this movie because it’s about a girl in an
obsessive relationship with her father and her father dies at the end of the movie.
JB: And in this movie she’s leaving a destructive relationship with her father and going to live with a foster family so I thought,
‘Wow, this girl can really work’ and I was lucky enough that she was able to come on board and she happens to be a concert pianist
and that helped also.
WCT: I’m a pianist myself and I thought perhaps she might be playing.
JB: She was and she had to memorize all those pieces, too, which wasn’t easy. So I thought Elisha and Camilla would be great for
those parts and as far as Edie Falco and Martin Donovan, I had a hard time convincing Martin to be in the movie because he didn’t
want the world to hate him.
WCT: It’s not an easy role.
JB: Right but when Edie came on board then he was a lot more interested. He thought, ‘Oh, I really like Edie, we worked together
before on a Hal Hartley movie’ and I also said to him, ‘Don’t judge the character, you have to play this like it’s Dr. Zhivago – this is a
love story for you.
WCT: Yes, everything is not so black and white. The scene where he confesses and pours out his soul to Dot – you do feel some
empathy for him which is creepy because you don’t want to.
JB: Exactly and that was important to me in the making of the film. Nina, even though she is suffering from sexual abuse, is not
just ‘Oh, the poor girl, what a nice girl,’ you know? She has a destructive, mean side that comes out of pain but is definitely there
and I wanted to make Martin more of a person and not an asshole and seem like just a fucked up, needy guy and in a really fucked
WCT: Well that came across Jamie. He came across like a fucked up needy guy in a really fucked up marriage (laughs).
JB: (laughs) Yeah, he did. But you know the script was written more like he was an angry man, like yelling all the time and he
underplayed all that stuff and I think that was really the right decision.
WCT: I’m going to switch tracks for a minute, if you don’t mind and talk about something really fun and perverse and comedic yet
serious like This Film Not Yet Rated. I had no idea, of course, what you went through with the travails on getting Cheerleader rated.
JB: Isn’t that ridiculous! I mean, it’s a “PG” movie. You know, they said to me, ‘What do you think the ratings board is going to
think about this film?’ and I said, ‘I’ll get an “R” and it’s not going to be an issue’ and how fucked up is it that it got an “NC-17?” I
would be less likely to want kids to see The Quiet than Cheerleader but they don’t care.
WCT: I hadn’t thought much about this issue but after seeing the film I was amazed by all the evidence of all the GLBT films
getting a much harsher treatment from the ratings board.
JB: Oh yeah, definitely. When Cheerleader came out no GLBT movie had ever, ever, ever gotten anything but an “R” – even The
Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love which is so G-Rated, also so I was told before the movie, ‘Don’t think you’re going to get
anything other than an “R” because you’re going to get an “R” and then when I got an “NC-17” I was like ‘You’ve got to be kidding
me.’ But actually in the last year, D.E.B.S. was actually the first lesbian movie to get a “PG-13” and that was historical. Never, ever,
ever has a gay movie gotten a “PG-13” and then Big Eden was also the first gay male movie that got a “PG-13.”
WCT: By the way after I saw D.E.B.S. I told Angela Robinson that I wanted to be an honorary dyke.
JB: (laughs) I literally just waved to her like two minutes ago. She was walking her dog and I’m getting Starbucks.
WCT: Oh that’s cool. Didn’t your partner, Andrea Sperling, produce D.E.B.S.?
WCT: And The Quiet, too?
JB: Yes and we’re both working on “The L Word” so we’re in Vancouver right now.
WCT: Can you talk about working with your partner. Is it nice? Is it a challenge?
JB: It’s definitely challenging but the great thing is that she is so good at her job that it makes me fall in love with her to work with
her again (laughs).
WCT: That’s a great, romantic answer.
JB: Well, she’s such an amazing producer, she’s just so good and I’m very blessed and lucky because when I met her she had
already been a fabulous producer and I never knew. I fell in love with her without knowing how amazing she was at her job and then
when I worked with her I was like, ‘Oh, now I see a whole other side.’ She had produced all of Gregg Araki’s movies early in the day.
WCT: Between my editor, my partner and myself you’ve worked on three of our favorite TV series – “Nip/Tuck,” “Gilmore Girls” and I
loved “Wonderfalls” so much—
JB: Oh, me too.
WCT: And now you’re doing “The L Word.” How do you have such great taste in TV? (laughs)
JB: I don’t know if other people consider it great but I just like certain things and I’m actually working on another show which I’m
really excited about called “Ugly Betty.”
WCT: The show they moved to Thursday night’s before “Grey’s Anatomy” on ABC.
JB: Yes and it is sooo good. If you watch TV at all, it’s a great new show. I watched the pilot and I was like, ‘I have to work on this
show this is amazing.’
WCT: It’s about an ugly woman, obviously.
JB: Yes, who works in the fashion business. It’s kind of like Devil Wears Prada and the weird thing is that it was around way before
that. It was the most famous TV show in Colombia and then in Mexico and Salma Hayak bought the rights and had it remade here.
It’s great, so great.
WCT: Who’s the lead? Is it somebody new?
JB: It’s America Ferrera – the girl from Real Women Love Curves. She’s so good – it’s her with braces and glasses so she looks like
a freak and it’s so funny—
WCT: Because as somebody who wears glasses and who wore braces for five years, boy why do I think that’s cute instead of ugly, I
don’t know, is that just me?
JB: (laughs) You’re not alone! Anyway, big recommendation for that.
WCT: Okay, I’ll check it out. What’s your next feature by the way?
JB: The next feature is Itty Bitty Titty Committee and I’ve already shot it and I’m editing it right now.
WCT: What’s it about?
JB: It’s a reimagining of Born in Flames, this camp sci-fi movie from the early 80s where militant lesbians take over the world. It’s
about a girl who’s aimless and doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life, working at a McJob and she encounters a group of
radical activists and gets sucked in and changes the world.
WCT: Who’s in it?
JB: A lot of young girls in their early 20s – Clea DuVall is in it. The main girl is Melonie Diaz who was in Lords of Dogtown and
Melanie Mayron from “Thirty Something” who’s gay and plays an interesting role and Jenny Shimizu and a lot of other girls. It’s a
big ensemble movie.
WCT: When are we going to see it?
JB: It will be finished around January and I’m hoping to go to Sundance with it but we’ll see.
WCT: For lesbian and gay filmmakers out there, from one who has achieved such success, any words of encouragement? Have
things gotten better?
JB: Things have definitely gotten a lot better. There is a community – many more than when I first started. There are a lot of
lesbian filmmakers out there that are working and making a living and it’s encouraging.