Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Tony Goldwyn

'Moon' Walking

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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As a movie reviewer and interviewer, one of the most awkward things that can happen is that you find yourself interviewing an artist who has contributed to a movie you didn't like. This happened with the movie A Walk on the Moon, starring Liev Schreiber, Diane Lane, Viggo Mortensen, and Anna Paquin. The movie was directed by actor Tony Goldwyn, his first at the helm. Goldwyn is most well known for his parts as the evil yuppie who tries to move in on Demi Moore in Ghost (1990), and in The Pelican Brief (1993) and Nixon (1995). His next project is the voice of the animated Tarzan. A Walk on the Moon is a competent movie, and it's well crafted, but one of the central characters -- Mortensen's -- doesn't quite work. He plays "the Blouse Man," who comes occaisionally to the resort to sell his wares. Diane Lane, who married young, and whose husband, Schrieber, keeps travelling back to work, gets lonely. The mysterious Mortensen symbolizes freedom and love. The two have an affair. Unfortunately, the symbol for freedom and love is no match for the in-depth, flesh-and-blood characterizations of Schreiber and Lane. So when Lane takes the plunge, we can't emotionally follow her there.

Many other elements of the movie work, like Anna Paquin's sexually awakening teenager, and Tovah Feldshuh's all-knowning Jewish "Bubby." The placement of the Woodstock festival and the Moonwalk in the Summer of 69 are well-handled and serve as helpers to the plot, not as signposts for an era. But the whole movie, hinging on that one character, falls on its face.

So I found myself talking with Goldwyn, who is a very polite, charming, and handsome in a yuppie-type way. He was enthusiastic about the movie, and believed in it to its core. I admired him for that, and I enjoyed our talk.

Q: Where do you call home?

TG: Connecticut. About an hour to New York City. Away from all the Hollywood hoopla.

Q: How did A Walk on the Moon come about?

TG: I'd been working on this one for a couple of years before I decided to direct it.

Q: Working on it how?

TG: Well, I started looking for material about five years ago, that I could produce. To kind of branch out. My acting career had always been actor for hire. I could be more involved in the process. I found this script that I loved, and it didn't feel right to act in it, but I really wanted to see it get made. So the writer and I started working on the screenplay. We had another director on board. We worked for a year, and then he fell out. And I was kind of sitting with this script. I felt, "how can I trust another director to really do what I know needs to be done?" I just had sort of a mind-flash one morning. I thought, "I'm supposed to do this myself!" And that was about three months before we got it rolling with Dustin Hoffman's company.

Q: Sort of like destiny...

TG: It was. It felt that way. I swear to God it felt like that. I just kind of fell in my lap and all of a sudden we were off to the races.

Q: How did you and the script come together?

TG: I contacted TA, my agency, and said I want to do this. And I want to see what material's out there. And I had a meeting with a woman there, who was great, and gave me a stack of scripts. And this was one of them. You know, I just started reading.

Q: You were originally just going to produce it?

TG: Pamela Gray, the screenwriter, said, 'well you could play Walker. You could play the Blouse Man.' And I said, 'well, I see someone else in the part, a different kind of actor.' And she said, 'no it'll be great. Why don't you act in it and produce it?' And I said, 'okay.' And my real motivation was that I wanted to see the film made. But I figured I'd play the part, and that would be fine. And then I started playing Marty, the husband's part. And so when I decided to direct it, I gladly stepped aside. 'Cause I really didn't feel right. Also, when I was going to take on directing, I thought that's all I should put my focus on, and really do it right.

Q: Did Dustin Hoffman give you a hand? Was this his first production?

TG: It was, yeah. First thing that he didn't act in. He's attached himself as producer to a lot of his movies. [Note: Hoffman co-produced his 1978 movie Straight Time.] But he was incredibly helpful. He stayed in the background and let me make my film. But he was always there for me. He became very involved when I was editing, and sort of as a backboard to sort of bounce ideas off of, and he gave me tons of notes. He was very helpful.

Q: You worked with Oliver Stone (Nixon) and Alan J. Pakula (The Pelican Brief). Did you sort of take notes when you were working with them? Did you know at the time?

TG: No. I really had no desire to direct. I didn't really want to. But when I was directing I drew on my experience. Alan and Oliver particularly made a big impression on me. Totally different styles. I found that through osmosis -- a lot of the films that I had worked on -- I had a lot to draw on. I didn't realize it ahead of time, but it turned out that I knew a lot more than I thought I did.

Q: What was it like in the editing room? Euphoria?

TG: At moments. At moments. Mainly editing was like climbing Mount Everest. You kind of do that three times. You spend a couple years working on the script to get it solid. Then shooting is like waging a war. It's very very intense. Then editing -- you have this huge mass of material, and you have to shape it. So it was really like climbing... I used that in my head a lot. "Oh my God! We're never gonna get..." It's just one foot in front of the other. I was reading "Into Thin Air" [by Jon Krakauer] while I was cutting this movie, the Everest book. I thought "God, that's just how I feel." When you get to the summit, it feels pretty good. "Wow, nice view up here." And you don't have to climb back down.

February 24, 1999

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