Thursday, September 18, 2008

Lost in the Suburbs: A Chat with Alan Ball

When I heard that writer/director Alan Ball was coming to town for this year's Seattle International Film Festival, I knew I had to speak with him, even though I hadn't yet seen his purposefully provocative directorial debut, Towelhead.

Due to a variety of issues, I watched the film in three parts on three different days, kind of like a television series...which seems fitting, considering his background.

Ball honed his chops by writing for TV's Grace Under Fire, Cybill, and Oh, Grow Up.

After penning the Oscar-winning screenplay for 1999's American Beauty, he created HBO's Six Feet Under (2001-2005)--and won an Emmy for directing the pilot.

Ball adapted Towelhead, which premiered at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival as Nothing Is Private, from Alicia Erian's semi-autobiographical novel, and launched his second HBO series, True Blood, with fellow Academy Award winner Anna Paquin, as vampire-loving psychic Sookie Stackhouse, on 9/7. Earlier today, the network renewed the show for a second season. Despite his lofty credentials, Ball ranks as one of the more gracious subjects I've had the pleasure to interview.

I have to ask the obvious question: Have you been to Seattle before?

I've been to Seattle twice, once to shoot location work for Six Feet Under, the second season, because Nate [Peter Krause] lived in Seattle before he moved to Los Angeles in the world of the show. When he came back, he was picking up a body and driving it home with his sister, Claire [Lauren Ambrose].

You actually shot in Seattle and not Vancouver.

Absolutely. There's a shot that has the city skyline with the Space Needle, and we shot in a funeral home. We shot in three different places. That was the episode where Lili Taylor's character [Lisa Kimmel] was introduced. Then, prior to that, I had been here years ago. A friend of mine was doing a play at--what's the big theater?

The Seattle Rep?

She was doing a play at the Seattle Rep, and I stayed with her for about a week.

A lot of my questions are actually about adaptation, and unfortunately, I haven't read the book, but more so than that, I hadn't even heard of it and this is the first I've heard of the author, so I did some reading up on her. While talking to other interviewers, do you find that you're mostly talking to people who've read the book or people who haven't?

Both. It's about an even mix, I think. This was the first time I adapted something. And actually, the new series I'm doing for HBO is an adaptation of a series of books.

They seem to be extremely well known.

[Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries, i.e. Dead Until Dark, etc.]

They're very popular. She [Harris] has a huge fan base. I read Towelhead before it was published. My agent had a copy of the manuscript, and I bought the rights to it.

Had you read her short story collection? [The Brutal Language of Love]

Towelhead was the first thing I read. My agent called me and said, "I have the manuscript. I think you should read it. I think you might respond to it, and I did...and I did. [laughs] And then I read her short story collection after that.

It sounds like she was working through some ideas she develops further in Towel-
. I should stay away from message boards, but I can't resist, and I noticed someone already misinterpreted the book by saying the character
[Summer Bish-
il's Jasira] is part-Egyptian. I guess they were conflating the novel with one of her
short stories, because I understand she's part-Lebanese, just like in the film...

Alicia's part-Egyptian. Her dad's Egyptian in real life, but in the novel, he's Lebanese.

[I meant character not author, but should have made that more clear.]

In its outline--I can't speak for the particulars--it seems like a pretty faithful adaptation.

It's incredibly faithful.

There were no major changes?


Click here for part two

Towelhead opens at the Harvard Exit (807 E. Roy St.) on 9/19. For more information, please click here or call 206-781-5755. Images fanpop, OutNow!, and Patch of Silver.

1 comment:

  1. Love it! And I gotta say, I am so, so, so, so, SO jealous. I love Alan Ball...and clearly need to go see Towelhead ASAP.