‘Tis the season for tear-jerking movies. While the biggest hits of the holiday (and Oscar) season go for broke when it comes to grabbing the audience’s emotions, there are very few that manage to pull at the heartstrings of the average moviegoer with subtlety and nuance. Director Travis Fine and actor Alan Cumming fully admit that their new film Any Day Now (which opens today) reads, at least on paper, as the kind of emotionally manipulative film that only serves to induce sobs. The film, based on a true story, focuses on a gay couple, Rudy and Paul (played by Cumming and Garret Dillahunt, respectively), who attempt to retain custody of their foster child, a young boy with Down syndrome who has been neglected by his drug addicted mother. It’s heavy stuff, for sure, but it’s hardly sensational.
Inspired by gritty character-driven dramas of the ’70s, Any Day Now invests the majority of its running time on its two leads, not only examining the familiar rushed nature of their courtship, but also their mutual desire to protect and love the son they have come to know. Working from a script originally written decades ago, Fine not only examines the social conditions of the ’70s but brings light to an issue that is still politically relevant today. Cumming, who delivers the performance of his career, plays Rudy in a refreshing manner not typically seen on film: at times he is a flamboyant drag queen, at others a tough, streetwise man with a gruff exterior.
I sat down with Fine and Cumming to discuss their film, how they managed to keep the emotional content in balance, and what they hope the audience will see in the coupling of its two leading men.
To start with you Travis, what inspired you from the beginning to work on this film? Did you know the story beforehand?
Travis Fine: I had not. I read the script. PJ Bloom, the script supervisor, said, “My father wrote a script 35 years ago, can you read it?” It was a script that had almost gotten made a number of times and never did. And thankfully I read it, but again, I didn’t quite understand what my deep, personal connection…I understand on a cerebral cinematic level. Once I kind of got in touch with that deep, personal level I wrote the film and infused it with some of my own personal take on loss and away we went.
Alan, how did you get involved?
Alan Cumming: He sent it to my agent and manager and they were very, you know, they were like, “Read this now.” And so I did, and we talked on Skype. There were a few versions of the script before the actual production one, so it was it great to have the pleasure of being involved early on to be able to discuss things that are gestating.
It’s a story I had never seen before, especially with two gay men, and especially as a period piece. Beyond the subject matter, what I loved about it was that it could have been much more emotionally manipulative, and I think you avoided that successfully. Was there a stance you wanted to take at the beginning of looking at the script and how you’d present it on film?
TF: One of the thing I loved so much about George [Bloom]’s script were the characters and the situation but there were elements of it that I felt needed to be less manipulative and even in some of the early drafts that I wrote, there were moments that some of which made it to the actual shooting of and then ultimately the editing of the film…anyone who has been in an editing room knows how much rewriting goes on in there as well. And one of the things I tried to remain very conscious of, both in working with the actors…and Alan was always a reminder of this…of sort of steering away from that. And then once we got in the editing room, the mandate, the very first day of editing, I said to the editor, “anything that smacks of overt sentimentality, that smacks of chopping onions for the sake of chopping onions just to evoke a tear is coming out of the movie.” So the first cut we actually had of the film, which is about 12 minutes shorter than the current cut.
TF: Yeah, we have a version that was 12 minutes shorter; literally almost everything was taken out—every emotional moment. Nobody cried through the whole thing, nobody got emotional. And then from there we started adding back in some of the moments, so it has been an evolution, something I was conscious of, something that Alan was conscious of. I think we were all aware that we ran the risk of falling off that rail.
AC: It’s got a lot of elements of it that could fall into cloying territory. I went into it worried about those things and also about doing gay stereotype. And it’s just amazing, in the working process with Travis, every single one of those things that I would think—“Oh, this speech, we don’t need to have it, or this moment…”—every single one he just either cut it or changed it, so it was really inspiring to have those anxieties just completely erased. It’s been entirely heartening about the proper use of sentiment and sentimentality in its true sense, in a positive sense.
TF: I will also say one of the most heartening things has been defying expectations because a lot of people on paper when they read the log line, there’s that sense of, “Oh, I know what that movie is.” A couple people online have said, it seems like one of those movies from Tropic Thunder, one of the Oscar-bait movies. One guy has a club foot, two gay, a Down syndrome child, with a sheep herder from Uganda. And on paper it can appear as if it’s this mawkish, overly sentimental thing, but I think it defies all those expectations. Having audiences respond, winning all these audience awards, and having not just gay audiences but audiences across the spectrum respond in this way…it sort of lets me know and lets all of us know that we did ultimately what we set out to do, which was to tell a great story that steers away from some of those more obvious traps.
To get to what you kind of mentioned about the character—worrying that it would be a gay stereotype—what I responded to the most about this is that you character didn’t seem stereotypical at all. The press notes described him as flamboyant, which I think is true, but there’s not a lot of femininity to him. I think it happens so frequently in films, especially in gay couples on film, where one man is “more straight” and the other “more gay.”
AC: Like that new sitcom. One’s really queeny and the other one watches football.
And was that something that was sort of planned from the original script?
AC: He was more kind of effeminate in the first versions of the scripts, and we talked about that. I tried to explain to Travis why I wanted to fight against those stereotypes. In a way, those are counterproductive to what you’re trying to do because it doesn’t allows the audience to engage with the person because they think they know who he is because they’ve seen him so many times before. It also didn’t make sense in terms of the story for him not to be strong and very brave. He has this armor that he had to acquire to exist. I was saying this earlier: the drag queens I know are fierce. They really know how to take care of themselves. You have to if you’re going to pursue that, especially where he comes from and that time in which he lived. He’d have to be pretty fierce and aggressive.
TF: I had an interesting tip-off when people read the first drafts of the script and a couple people said, “Oh, Nathan Lane would be perfect for this.” And I said, “Oh, I was thinking more Robert Downey, Jr.” Somebody a bit like a young Al Pacino, who could have played this role back in the ’70s. Thankfully, when Alan came on board, we did have some great conversations about who and how this guy should be, which helps the film and helps me as a filmmaker. Particularly as a straight filmmaker trying to tell an LGBT story.
Did you ever consider adapting it into a present-day story, or did you always want to keep it as a period place in the ’70s?
TF: There are great dramatic films that are set present day without question, but when I read the script, there were certain things I responded to. One of the things that did inspire me was getting to tell a story using modern technology—modern digital photography—and to make a gritty ’70s drama. I was born in ’68; as I came of age, those are the films that I was watching and the filmmakers I was watching. Certainly that was one of the hooks and one of the draws for me making the movie, and there was never a consideration to reset it to modern day. I wanted to tell a story that allows us to look back and see where we were as a society against where we are now.
In terms of the music and the character performing, was that something that was always involved or something that came along with Alan?
TF: That was not in the original draft, meaning the script that George wrote. I wanted to make this film and make it very personal to myself. In the original script Rudy was a hair dresser. But I wanted to add that element of music and theatricality, and then the notion of him becoming an actual singer was, you know, yet another draft. So what was wonderful, when thinking of who to cast, when Alan’s name was brought up it was one of those—
Was that appealing to you, to be able to play a role in which you’re singing?
AC: Yes, because what’s interesting about this part and this film is that I sing in a different way to how you would normally sing in a film. The songs are very much a part of the storytelling and the tone and the mood of where we are in the story. I really like that. It was kind of hard because you have to record the songs before and make decisions about the tone of them. I’ve sung songs in films before, but they’re mostly just performances, and these are performances, too, but there was another level to them that I really liked.
It gives it that musical quality.
AC: It is a musical according to the Golden Globes.
AC: It is a musical. And it’s funny.
What is your idea of the ideal audience for this? Because for a film with political undertones to it and about something that obviously causes a lot of debate today, it’s hard to imagine someone making a film hoping it’s going to change minds. But it seems like this would be playing to an audience that already has the mentality of rooting for these characters kind of brings this topic up a little bit more for discussion. Is that something you ever thought about, like who you would want to really see this film and take something away from it?
TF: I was always aware that there are certain people that will not make it past scene three of the film. I have people in my own family that won’t see the movie. They will not, and I’m aware of that. For people on the far end of the political or the religious spectrum, I would hope that if they would be able to sit through the film, that it would inspire some introspection. But I don’t think a piece of art, anymore than a political argument, is going to cause people to magically change their minds about what they believe, and that’s not really the intention. The idea was to tell a great love story—unlikely people finding love in unlikely places—which I think is always interesting to me. The byproduct of having some people maybe change their ideas and their perceptions is something that I hope happens. It happened with me. As I did my research as a filmmaker, it moved from being sort of a passive supporter of equality to a bit more activist and a bit more openly supportive.
This year has brought out a lot of great films that feature LGBT couples that aren’t necessarily making a statement but just being visible. And I think that’s something this movie really did.
TF: The one thing I was going to say was, we did a screening at the 92nd Street Y and got an email from an employee saying that a woman who she goes to temple with came rushing up to her and said, “I have to tell you, I loved the movie and I did not think my husband was going to sit through the whole thing. He’s very homophobic, he’s very old-school.” And she said that he sat through the whole thing and they’ve had some wonderful discussions and it opened his mind in a certain way, which I thought was wonderful. It’s wonderful if it can do that, it’s a great thing.
AC: I think what’s really good about the film is that people just really respond to your love that you can see and just that it’s…there’s a purity to it. I think you forget the circumstances. And I think that’s because it’s just about human things, very basic human things about loving and caring for people.
And it’s recognizing that these men react the same way they might react to something.
AC: The sense of injustice, I think, really resonates with people.
TF: This whole notion of normalcy… I was talking to somebody about the film and I said, “You know, if it was a straight couple, it could be a gritty woman of the streets and some normal guy, and they fall in love and take this kid in.” That story could work, but in that case you wouldn’t need to push the sexuality. You wouldn’t need to push the intimacy because it would be normal. Maybe you would have a scene where they’re in bed together, like these two guys, just kind of laughing and playing around with one another. And I think by not trying to push that, I’m hoping it just shows it’s a story about people in love.
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