Behind the Scenes: “Choke”

Many of you are familiar with Chuck Palahniuk’s novel “Fight Club” as well as the film adaptation starring Brad Pitt. Fox has made another deal with the author, and is back with a new film based upon his critically acclaimed novel, “Choke.” I had the opportunity to interview several people involved with the film. The following are excerpts from those interviews.

First interview:
Chuck Palahniuk: author
Clark Gregg: writer/director

New University: You focus mostly on love in the film. Why did you choose that angle?
Clark Gregg: I think to me [Choke] absolutely was a love story. I didn’t see that in a corner, but I actually felt like, it’s a love story as much with Ida as it is … it felt to me like a love triangle. There’s a line in the book that to me was interesting, which said something like, ‘The child of a single mom can’t get married until he gets divorced.’ It’s interesting because I never found a way to use that where it didn’t feel writerly and artificial in the movie, but it was a huge guiding thought for me. The book functioned on a lot of different levels, but for me, this love triangle – having to break away from this kind of unhealthy, co-dependent orbit around someone he did love, but who couldn’t love him back in a way that wasn’t damaging to him – that he had to break away from that in order to achieve some kind of intimacy. And that the kind of sexual compulsion … well, a huge part of it was one of the ways that he was hiding and anaesthetizing himself as a result of the damage done by the first lover.

New U: Speaking of co-dependency, I felt like the co-dependency between Victor and Denny was minimized in the film compared to the book.
Gregg: I felt like the story discovers them just in the last moments when Denny is kind of this sub-lieutenant wingman. And so I feel like it had to be implied. There was a great line where they’re like, ‘We like to say co-dependence in 1734.’ I deserve a beat-down for the number of great lines that are not in the movie. But, I thought it needed to be implied because I think the most important thing in the Denny/Victor relationship is the way that Denny’s moving past him, and departing from his wingman duties, and becoming, if anything, a little bit of a trailblazer into a more healthy place. There’s nothing worse for a dysfunctional guy, and you can trust me on this, than to lose your wingman to a healthy relationship. It’s a huge impotence on you, to either get sicker or get better.
Chuck Palahniuk: I really saw it as a triangle also and I tend to write in triangles. There are triangles in pretty much everything I do because it’s the smallest number I think that you can build a lot of dynamics between. And in minimalism you keep your location and you keep your characters to a real minimum because they build faster that way. And there’s a sort of a third dynamic there that I didn’t do in the book, which is developing a relationship between Ida and Paige Marshall, which I thought Clark had done really, really well in the movie. And I hadn’t even considered that. And so the speech that Paige has at the end, instead of just being bat-shit lunatic crazy, like she is in the book, she actually develops that relationship that was missing from the book. It really completes that triangle and makes them almost like a family, rather than just three people fighting. And so I thought that was very sweet. That’s the kind of thing I wanted to see that would ongoingly surprise me about this story I knew so well.

Second interview:
Sam Rockwell: Victor Mancini
Brad William Henke: Denny

New U: Did you see any parallels between yourself and when you were in the 12-step meetings? Did you draw any inspiration from those people?
Sam Rockwell: Yeah, we did actually; we both went to some meetings. You end up having quite a lot of compassion for them because it’s pretty serious stuff.
Brad William Henke: We both kind of thought that it was going to be kind of exciting or something when we went to a meeting, but the first meeting I went to was all guys, and it was really depressing. It’s like if something bad happens in their life, and instead of doing a drug they just go and masturbate or have sex with a hooker.
Rockwell: Everything gets equated to sex, so it’s like, ‘If you’re hungry have sex. If you’re lonely, have sex. If you’re angry or upset, if you’re celebrating have sex.’ So it’s all …
Henke: Mine is eat a donut (laughs).
Rockwell: Mine is just heroin, barbiturates and semen. (getting serious) It’s about repressed anger and it’s not unlike a food disorder, I guess.

New U: Was getting into a character that is far from yourself, just being low and dirty and perverse, particularly fun for you?
Rockwell: Absolutely. The taboos are always fun, playing the bad guy is always fun. I played some bad guys … It’s kind of your chance to get some scissors and tear up the carpet, throw the TV out the window like a rock star.
Henke: Yeah, you find out about a part of society that you don’t even really know about … You don’t know that there are these groups of people that are looking to find people for sex everyday, these Web sites … it’s just a whole different world that you don’t know, that I didn’t know existed. It’s probably better that you don’t know.

Third interview:
Anjelica Huston: Ida Mancini

New U: In most of your roles, for example, “Ever After,” the audience never wants to totally hate you. They want to find the nice in you. Is this intentional?
Anjelica Huston: Yes, here’s the thing about the woman in “Ever After” … [pause] and I have to come from a place of sympathy, and that’s what makes playing these dark, difficult women fun for me. So, this woman who is living a perfectly sort of nice-if-sad life after the death of her first husband is courted by the father of Cinderella. He comes to her, he makes her feel young and beautiful again, she has a couple of daughters, she sees a future, she thinks, ‘Well, this is actually fine, I’m not too old, I’m still attracting the opposite sex.’ He marries her, he brings her to his house, it’s not quite what she imagines it would be, she thought she was marrying royalty, but it’s all right, it’s a step down, (pauses) her daughters are quite beautiful and of marriageable age and there’s a prince nearby and he (in a low tone) falls for Cinderella. Next thing – the husband who was going to bring her all these wonderful things, this new lease on life, goes and has a heart attack. She is distraught! She has a terrible time, plus the prince is loving Cinderella, she can’t marry off her daughters, she comes from a place of deep, deep, deep resentment. Her world has completely crashed and nobody is sympathetic! Nobody understands her plight; no one sees that she, in fact, had to sacrifice everything. So of course she is bitter and horrible (laughs) and this is her justification for being vile to this girl. Now, you know, most people are not vile to the girl because we’ve all been brought up to behave and be nice and all of that, but the original instinct on her part, you know, which is the childish instinct, is to be vile to Cinderella. So, you know, that’s what she does and it’s what gives me my sympathy for her because I know the set up of her story. It’s awful, awful; but on the other hand, she just behaves a little bit badly. That’s what happens with these women, you know, they kind of get sidelined by their own weakness of character or by their own bitterness, and that’s fun to play.

New U: How does it feel to know that you appeal to two generations? For example, my mother’s and my own.
Huston: Aww! It feels really sweet, thank you. I like to think that there aren’t too many age barriers in my life. I like the people that I like; and I’m always happy when people like my work and when young people like my work. Older people are a bit easier to satisfy.

New U: The last several films that I know of that you have been in, as well as many of your older films, fit into that dark, quirky, comedic type of genre.
Huston: That’s my taste basically.I like new writing, I like new ideas and I like to work with younger directors. It brings some interest and some exciting ideas to the prospect. You work a lot with older people, things are more regimented, they need a certain amount of money to get to this stage, and it becomes a bit more pedantic. Working with sort of younger directors … it’s like a new lease on life and not always having to do things by the number.