Laura San Giacomo took some time to chat about her Lifetime Movie of the Week, TalHotBlond, which premiers tonight at 8pm. The film is based on a true story and based on the documentary of the same name. It also stars Raising Hope’s Garrett Dillahunt and is produced by – and directed by Courteney Cox. I loved Laura in Just Shoot Me!
Press Conference Call Highlights:
Q: What was it like having Courteney Cox as a director?
Laura San Giacomo: Well, I think that you could probably imagine what it’s like since so many of her fans have been watching her for so long. She has a really wonderful energy on the set, she was very well prepared. She’s a very smart director. She got a great team together, the DP, the crew, the wardrobe person, every one she picked very specifically, the music, everything. And she was extremely well prepared with her shot list, which is drawings of where the characters are, where the camera is going to be. I was extremely impressed with how prepared she was, and she had great images for the story as well, so of metaphors and imagery of how to shoot it and how to tell the story.
Q: Garrett Dillahunt is known for his comedic roles, what was it like behind the scenes with him?
Laura San Giacomo: Well very fun because he’s a very and smart person, but he was very focused and concentrated on this role as you will see when you watch. He’s just does an amazing transformation into this person, and he does a superb job. The movie does sit on his shoulders. And how we feel about these characters and how drawn in we are to the story sits on his shoulders and he does an amazing job.
Q: What drew you to the project?
Laura San Giacomo: Well when I read the script I thought I was really surprised by how involved these people got in the world of their own minds. And it was sort of intriguing to me from that aspect, as well as I was really surprised by what happened at the end of the story and how these people’s lives were devastated by something that they created in their imagination. I was also really interested in – I had heard that Courteney was a very good director and that it was something that suited her really well. And so I was, you know, interested in working with her too. And those are pretty much the two main reasons, and then when Garrett came on I was really happy. And I was – I’m really glad that I did it. It was a good working experience, even though it was fast and furious, 16 days, it was really great to work with those guys.
Q: Had you seen the documentary before you were approached to do the Movie of the Week?
Laura San Giacomo: No, I hadn’t even heard of the story. So that was all new to me and quite disturbing. As it should be.
Q: Obviously the role is very dramatic and very dark in a lot of ways, but there’s kind of a delicate balance because you want to create a character that you feel comfortable with, and yet she’s a very much alive woman in the world. So can you talk about that balance and the process to get into the role?
Laura San Giacomo: Right. Well there isn’t anything extremely overt about her that causes this story to happen. So exactly what you’re – that’s exactly right, I had to create this delicate balance of a marriage that has kind of become very routine and all about the children and not a person who is, let’s say, neglectful or aggressive or nagging or – like there’s nothing specific about her that makes this happen. It’s what’s inside his mind that makes it happen. So it can’t look like a great marriage, it can’t look like a horrible marriage, it’s got to look like that place in between that so many people sit where it’s just routine and they’ve lost sight of the person that they fell in love with. And also, yes, to be respectful that this is a person that is living and has chosen to stay far away from the entire story and the documentary — who could blame her, it was such a devastating thing that happened to her — but I felt like as long as we can have the boundaries of what this relationship was and be truthful to them, it can appeal to a lot of people in various moments of their life. We’ve all had those moments where we take a person for granted, we’re not paying attention, we’re not being our best, we’re really tired and overwhelmed by all of the things of modern life, kids and swim meets and being really involved in their lives, and trying to, especially right now, everyone trying to make the payments and being overwhelmed by this financial pressure as well as trying to make – still make life really fun and vibrant. And you can lose sight of who you are partnered with, you can take advantage of that, you can take it for granted. And so it was just about trying to find that balance of, “It’s not really her fault, but she’s also involved in the story.” You know, her losing sight of this person that she fell in love with is also part of why he creates this thing in his mind. Did I – did that explain it at all?
Q: What was that research process like for you? Did you really want to dive into who she was and the real case or did you just treat it like any other script and it’s a story that you had to tell?
Laura San Giacomo: Well there’s not a lot of information about her. There’s a lot of footage of him, and footage of some of the other people involved, although not a lot. But there is not a lot about her or footage of her, and there’s not a lot told about her. He does not talk about her very much. And he sort of, in his life right, when he was being interviewed for the documentary, takes a lot of responsibility for what happened. So he doesn’t, you know, talk about her a lot. And I think that’s also, you know, very respectful of him as well. So I had to go from the script and from what I could imagine about their life, and then, you know, Courteney kind of keeping it in a certain vein that she wanted too. She didn’t want it to fall on either side like it’s not the wife’s fault, it’s not – but there are moments when she’s just not, you know, the warmest person to live with. But it’s also not her fault. So she would guide scenes in certain directions and we’d kind of do it a couple of different ways so that she could than cut it together, “Well how am I going to create this person who is just right on this edge?” You know, telling the story so that it is – it really is most of his story of what is going in his mind. But she plays that part in it, and it’s just about finding the right tone.
Q: Your son has cerebral palsy, do you talk about it publicly?
Laura San Giacomo: Yes I do. We started a fully inclusive school about 11, maybe 12 years ago now, which is a public charter school that the focus is full inclusion, which means that everyone goes to school together all day long, kids who happen to have disabilities, typical kids and gifted kids sitting side by side in the classroom. And it’s been a very successful elementary school and middle school, now we started with 70 kids, now it’s over 700. And it has reached really good scores as well as been adopted by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Was given to him by his wife for his 60th birthday to be his flagship school, and it’s doing really well.
Q: Can you please speak on the importance of people understanding the inclusion of children of all abilities to be together?
Laura San Giacomo: Well there’s some really wonderful things that happen is, first kids realize that everyone is different and everyone is the same and everyone is to be valued. That’s not something – that’s something that really adults need to learn. Kids just automatically value each other. So within the first 100 days of school there was an NPR radio show came to our school to do a piece on inclusion and the journalist who was there was trying to – she was really setting up situations where she was trying to the kids to describe each other by disability and they really didn’t. They said you know, like she would say, “Whose backpack is that?” Knowing it was someone who was in a wheelchair or who maybe was deaf — we also had a deaf and hard of hearing program at that time — and the kids would say you know, “That’s Johnny’s, it’s, you know, he got it for Christmas. It’s his Justice League backpack. He’s over there he’s in the red shorts.” So they would describe him as they would any other child, not by disability but by color of hair or shorts or whose class they were in or, you know kids. And it was a beautiful lesson for all of us to learn that right from the get-go disability can be completely normal. And that’s how most of us who founded the school live our lives, because most of the parents who had the energy and the drive to found the school were actually parents of kids who happen to have disabilities. So it was really wonderful when all of the typical and gifted kids who go there got to be leaders, got to have friendships, got to help other kids, got to be inspired by other kids. Got to learn about – that we all give our friends a lot of leeway and those kids learned that right from the get-go. And that everyone was a valuable member of their class even if they happen to not be able to walk or talk.
Q: Given the subject matter of the movie, how hard was it for you, as an actress, not to judge any of the characters in order to play Carol effectively? Or did you have to do that?
Laura San Giacomo: Right. Well, I guess I just really focused on what I thought was going on with my husband. So because a character doesn’t really know what’s going on, I had to just sort of focus in a moment. And I think that although maybe none of us take it that far we all have gotten caught up in our lives in something that we have blown out of proportion, whether it’s something very negative that’s happened in our lives or very positive, I think it’s very relatable that we have taken it – we’ve become maybe obsessed with it or become – it’s taken over our imagination and our daily thoughts. So I didn’t feel – what I experienced was I watched the documentary, it was extremely sad to me that all of this happened. And then I sort of detached from what happened to be in the moment, almost. And actually about three-quarters of the way before we stopped – through the shooting, I watched the documentary again and I was struck again by how moving it was to me and how disturbing it was to me. I had almost put it aside and gone into the moment to moment of what I was doing. So it’s there sort of – it was there hovering in the background to help me, but then it was – almost happened to those other people and I had to be in the moment.
Q: Well in what ways did you come to understand what was really going on between Carol and Thomas and their relationship in order for something so crazy to happen in the first place?
Laura San Giacomo: Well I think that we can all get to that point where we take other people for granted, and we’re not really present in the moment. I know, you know, those of us who have kids and our lives are really focused on our kids can forget about our spouse a little bit. They become lower in the food chain of our enthusiasm, of our nurturing, of our focus, of our warmth, you know, sometimes that can happen. I think that I’ve certainly watched it happen to marriages, in friendships or in family members, you know, we’ve seen these people who have been married for a couple of decades and you watch a marriage go – sort of takes it’s – it has a little bit of course. And sometimes it’s really passionate and loving and nurturing and thoughtful in the beginning, and you get out of that honeymoon period and you get into a place where you’re settling in together to have this life together, and then certain marriages fall apart and then maybe you get into a period where you’re – you’ve grown apart a little bit and you’re focused on other things. And then maybe you grow back together. It’s sort of in the course of life and relationships, and marriages is just like friendships, take different turns and, you know, I’ve experienced that in my own life, certainly not to that extent, but, you know, I have to remind myself too to be mindful of – and be appreciative of all the relationships in my life. And handle them with care because they could, you know, could be gone tomorrow. So I don’t think it’s too far outside of any of our realm of understanding how you could become neglectful of each other, especially when you’re focused on trying to pay all the bills and really being underwater in your house and your financial responsibilities. And really trying to focus on your kids and give them everything that you want them to have and be really present and there for them, and really involved in their lives. At the end of the day you can be too tired to even, you know, acknowledge each other. So I think that that’s what happens – happened in that marriage. At least that’s what I can eek out from the amount of material that’s available about the real people. But then also he had another thing going on, his mind was in another place. He took what this very bare bones of a relationship and created something huge out of it, both of them did. Both of the parties involved in that internet relationship took it to an extreme place of acting out fantasy, la la la, whatever you want to call it.
Q: What are you most passionate about?
Laura San Giacomo: Well I’m certainly most passionate about my son and education and literacy and opportunity for all kids. And that’s, you know, other than acting and mothering that’s what I’ve been most focused on in the last decade and a half in starting a school and keeping that up and running. And now with a new project on the horizon a technology and literacy center. So that’s kind of my hobby and I really love to see kids learning and laughing together and struggling together. And you know, that’s really one of my passions.
Q: Can you please give your best advice to parents who have kids with special needs?
Laura San Giacomo: Well let’s see. I think first of all there’s so much negativity around. Perhaps a really difficult birth, a really difficult childhood trauma, an extremely difficult diagnosis and there’s a lot of mourning that goes on and a lot of fear. And trying to adjust your mind around what you thought your parenting was going to be to what it’s now going to be. And I think that, and I wish that, people, medical professionals would tell parents, “This is your chance to be the most incredible person, to be better than you ever thought you were going to be, to become smarter than you ever thought you were, to become more imaginative than you ever thought you could be and this is your chance to really shine and step up to the plate for the biggest game of your life.” It – there’s a lot of great power surrounding the community and I sort of want to inject with, you know, the green masters of jacket – of the golf world. And I wish that, you know, doctors and medical professionals when they give the diagnosis would also put a green jacket on your shoulders and say, “Hey, this is your chance. You have been given this most incredible and amazing challenge and it is going to be the hardest thing you will ever do in your life and it is going to be the thing that is going to be the most joyful thing in your life. You will experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and you are going to be amazing and your child is going to be amazing.” And they will play basketball, whether it is from a wheelchair or someone helping them, they will find all kinds of things that you do not know, because your mind is too closed to what a disability might be. They will find and they will show you what they are going to be excited and passionate and joyful about, and your job is to take a machete and carve the path in front of them. Find out what they love to do and carve it and let them experience all of the world. And that’s a lot, and nobody is going to want to hear that. They just want to cry, but that’s the other side of the crying is that it is going to be a full and rich life that is going to be tiring but also extremely fulfilling and joyful.
Q: Did you have that positive outlook when you first got the diagnosis?
Laura San Giacomo: No, I did not. I mean that’s the first thing that, you know, that’s the first thing that someone told me is, “Well he’ll never play basketball.” And there he was five years later playing basketball. So it’s all, you know, it’s all old, really old conjecture. Is that the right word? Projection, it’s all from an old school where kids were, you know, institutionalized as near as the 70’s kids were not, you know, going home with their parents. It’s ready, the world is different now and it also is part of our responsibility to keep changing the world and to keep setting an example that, “No, what you tell me when he’s a baby in my arms, and you’re telling me he’s not going to play basketball,” that’s just not true, I could send you like 80 pictures of him playing basketball throughout his elementary school career. Now it doesn’t look like a professional basketball player, but most of the world is not going to become a professional basketball player. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a joy that a kid has playing basketball on the playground. It’s going to happen in a different way, but that’s not something any parent needs to be told. But it’s an old view from an old medical paradigm that is just not happening any more. And if, you know, some of the, you know, I wish that, you know, medical professionals had the time to go out and see what their patients are doing, to see what life is happening, to see inclusion at its most beautiful and finest. And then you don’t have to say, you know, sort of dumb things like that to parents and make them cry in your office. It’s just not necessary.