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Interview with Director Alex Kurtzman on People Like Us

When I was in LA a couple weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to sit down with Alex Kurtzman, the Director of People Like Us.  Not long in to the interview I learned that the storyline in the film, is loosely based on his own life and experiences.  He opened up about his past and what led him to People Like Us.

alex kurzman at people like us premiere

Where did the story come from?

I met my sister when I turned 30. My dad had another family before ours. We knew about them growing up. But I’d never met them. So I was sitting in my house, my backyard and I think it was because my wife and I were starting to think about having kids.  And it makes you think about your family and where you come from. And I started thinking about my — I have a half-sister and a half-brother. And I started thinking about them and wondering who they were and what they were like. And this image came to me. And the image was the last image of the movie. And I didn’t know who those characters were in the image. But it just…it struck me very profoundly as the ending. And, I thought, “Wow, that seems like a really interesting story.”

I didn’t think much of it and I went to a party that night and a woman walked up to me and said, “I’m your sister.” So that begun the seven years of trying to work through it and separate truth from fiction in order to make a movie. What you see is I think in many ways very autobiographical and in other ways there’s a lot of invention in there. But I certainly think there’s a lot of emotional truth for a lot of people in my family in there.

How did what you worked on before affect this [the film] and how has this sitting for so long affected the other stuff?

We’ve had incredibly good fortune of being able to be involved through every phase of production on the movies that we have been writing and producing. And so I’ve had the privilege of being able to sit behind directors and watch them do their thing.  I always got into writing to be a director and our lives took us down a very different path.

Steven Soderberg when he made “Sex, Lies and Videotape” published a book that was his diary of writing the script, making the movie, ending up at Cannes and then the script was published. It was like a bible that I carried around. It really was important to me because it was the only insight I had into the process. And when I met Bob, we met in high school and when he opened his backpack and he had that book in his backpack. So we suddenly went, “Oh my God, you’re my people.” We always thought we were gonna be making independent films.  And then our lives just went in a really different direction. You know, you go where the work is and where life takes you…and it’s been incredible. But I think I’ve always been looking and waiting for that story to go back to the stuff that we started, you know, that inspired us to tell stories in the first place.

I think that I couldn’t have done this without the experience of working on all those other movies because the set wasn’t intimidating to me. I felt like I’d been there a lot and I could never have had the crew that I had if I hadn’t made those movies. I made a real point of surrounding myself with people who were far more talented and experienced than I. And what that allowed me to do was to trust them.

Did you know who you wanted to play these roles?

No, not really because it took eight years to write the script…a lot of actors go through your life in eight years. The person who’s right at the beginning isn’t necessarily right at the end. There was also a question to me about how old I wanted Sam to be at certain points because he makes choices that are so incorrect.

There’s a part of me that felt like maybe he should be younger. And then there was a part of me that thought, “No, really, it’s about a guy who is sort of in a real delayed state of adolescence.” But Chris was the first person that I asked having worked with him on “Trek” and having seen him in theater. He’s incredible and done amazing stage work and I just felt like the thing about Chris for me is that first of all he’s a guy and I really needed Sam to be a guy. But when you look at him in here he’s ten years old. And every time I saw him on the monitors I saw this boy. And what I thought was so beautiful about that is that the only way to forgive this character is to understand that he’s really still a child in a lot of ways. That he’s trying so hard to be a good person. He just doesn’t really know what that means at the beginning of the movie. And I loved the idea that the movie starts and he’s this guy who’s literally selling air and the movie ends and he’s the guy who’s just utterly vulnerable standing there on his sister’s doorstep saying this is who I am… I don’t know how to be better, but I wanna try and that required a lot of range. And then, you know, I saw a lot of actresses for Frankie and they were all amazing, every one of them. But my worry with Frankie was that she would walk into the room and there would be a heaviness about her given her life.  And when Elizabeth came in, she the A.A. monologue and the Laundromat monologue and she kind of threw it away. I felt like I was watching was this person who was trying very hard not to have the words mean what they meant. And because of that they meant so much more. ‘Cause she wasn’t living in the drama of it. She was sort of trying to play it off. And the more she tried, the less capable she was of playing it off. So that by the time you get to the end of those monologues you realize how raw and real she is and how her armor is coming down. Right when her armor is coming down she’s letting Sam in.  She’s also just a brilliant comedian. She can kind of spin any line a thousand different ways. She’s unbelievably smart. They both are just so smart and there’s a sharpness about her that I think is conveyed in Frankie’s character because I knew that Frankie had to be like you do not mess with Frankie, you know…like she could mow you down or when she did make herself vulnerable, you needed to recognize that it was such an experience and a rare moment for her ‘cause she just didn’t do that and Elizabeth I think conveyed all of that to me and in about two seconds when she started reading.

Alex was so full of information and was gracious to answer thoughtfully. People Like Us opens on June 29, 2012 and I highly recommend that you go see it. I’ve seen it twice now and written my review, but I’m still thinking about taking my husband on opening day.  It’s really that good!

I was invited to LA as a guest of Disney/DreamWorks. Most of my expenses were paid and all opinions are my own.
About Crystal

Crystal Reagan, the owner and founder of SimplyBeingMommy.com lives in Small Town, Texas with her husband and 3 children. Crystal and her website have been featured on local and national news stations including Channel 2 Houston and ABC News. She has also appeared on BetterTV as a Mommy Expert for VTech.

Comments

  1. 1

    What a great interview!

  2. 2

    That’s a long time for a script! Sounds like a quality movie. Thanks for sharing.

  3. 3

    Great interview!

  4. 4

    great interview and opportunity, would love to do an interview like this.

  5. 5

    It opened today I hope to see it on my Birthday or the day before

  6. 6

    Lovely interview!

  7. 7

    Great interview!

    This is a movie on my “To See” list.

  8. 8

    What a great interview! I need to see this movie.

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