Combustible Celluloid

Interview: Katie Holmes & Peter Hedges

Holmes for the Holidays

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

October 21, 2003—We should all be thankful for Katie Holmes. The adorable "Dawson's Creek" star has been shining as of late in a clever variety of film roles, from Go and Wonder Boys to The Gift and Phone Booth. This week she excels once again in her latest movie, a very funny and very touching dysfunctional Thanksgiving story called Pieces of April.

Making his directorial debut, writer Peter Hedges (What's Eating Gilbert Grape?) shot Pieces of April over 16 days on digital video, both in a cramped New York apartment -- as April (Holmes) prepares a questionable Thanksgiving dinner for her family -- and on the highways between Pennsylvania and Manhattan, where her family road trips to join her. Adding to the drama, April's mother (Patricia Clarkson) has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

The actors cast as the family -- including Clarkson and Oliver Platt -- have each other to play off of, and Derek Luke, who plays April's boyfriend, interacts with other characters, but April spends much of her time alone, cooking, or, more accurately, attempting to cook.

"It did get kind of lonely with just me and the turkey," Holmes says during a recent visit to the Mill Valley Film Festival.

Director Hedges joins in, adding, "we shot all of her scenes in the apartment in sequence because we didn't have the crew to make sure the continuity was there. So you'd come in the next day and there would be the food, the mess from the day before."

Hedges originally envisioned a "cooking montage" sequence with a Fleetwood Mac song over it, but Holmes' performance convinced him otherwise. "As we started cutting it, we got really excited. The score would be the sounds, the squishes and the chops. And Lucille Ball over here, there's just so much great footage, like the look on her face when her hand goes in the turkey."

Holmes smiles modestly. The cooking scenes in the film are made up of such hilariously slapstick moments as April trying to mash raw potatoes.

"That's something I would have done," she says. "I can cook, but I need careful instructions."

The film also raises one of the most important and most controversial of Thanksgiving issues: canned or fresh cranberry sauce. Holmes says she prefers the fresh kind. "My grandma makes pretty good homemade. You put it with the turkey, because of the salt and the sweet."

Hedges, on the other hand, makes a face. He's never tried it and has no intention of trying it.

In the film, April is the black sheep of her family, having run off to New York City and shacked up with her African-American boyfriend. She has shucked her former suburban look and adopted a more individual look: red hair and bangs, a splotchy sleeveless top, cutoff jean shorts, all manner of trinkets, bracelets and jewelry, and -- to top it off -- men's garter belts to hold up her socks.

"There's a lot of color in her costume, so it wasn't just black and angry, and yet there's this edge," Hedges says. "She's a singular girl and she needed to look like she was re-inventing herself. I think it makes her easier to love, and yet you can understand why her family may be going, 'what happened to her?'"

Hedges says that he and his star discussed a possible second outfit that April would change into when her parents arrived for dinner. But they decided against anything too radical, and simply added a pink sweater to what she was already wearing.

"It was important not to change," Holmes says, "because we didn't want April to have to change anything about herself. The whole point of the journey was to say I want you to be here and I want you to see my world and I'm not going to change for you. I think that's a pretty big statement."

Holmes admits that she did not contribute to the new look. "I'm not that cool," she says. "That's not where my creative energy goes. I have a lot of cool friends that live in New York City and the East Village, and I'm like, 'how do you do that?' I'll go to the same stores they go to and I'll pick out a belt and I'll think the whole night that I'm so funky, but of course I'm in my GAP jeans and a black top."

April's independence and rebelliousness may seem like a new direction for Holmes, who is still best known for playing sweet, innocent characters on "Dawson's Creek" and in films like Wonder Boys and Phone Booth.

Yet for Holmes, the character -- and spending so much time alone onscreen -- came naturally. "I didn't feel like I had to do a lot of work to understand this character. We shot in the apartment. We were running up eight flights of stairs every morning. We were all together and there was no place to go. We didn't have a waiting room or whatever, so we were forced to be in this environment the whole day, or the whole week. It was great. It's like you're ten and your mom never tells you that you have to stop playing."

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