Little Miss Sunshine: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farris interview
We caught up with directors, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farris to discuss their much talked about and Oscar-nominated film, Little Miss Sunshine. Dayton and Farris cut their teeth on music videos and have been making promos for the likes of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Smashing Pumpkins and REM since the early 80s. We got the low-down from Dayton and Farris during their recent trip to London.
LOVEFiLM: Little Miss Sunshine must have been a dream script to have fallen on your laps. What was your initial reaction after reading it for the first time?
Jonathan Dayton: We'd been reading scripts forever and we'd developed a few, but we were always so shocked at the quality of screenplays…
Valerie Faris:…and how much work they needed.
JD: And while we did do some work on Little Miss Sunshine over the years, it was so far beyond most things that you get.
VF: That was the irony. We read the script and we thought, 'it's ready to shoot! We can change a few things, but it's a complete story with the characters fully developed.' We thought we could get it done in a year, however, it took four more years to get it green lit!
LF: This is your first feature film, did you both feel daunted by the task, or were you ready for it?
JD: Its funny 'cause over the years of preparing for it, the film became something we were really excited about and less fearful of. But at first we were very intimated of doing an hour and a half of story telling…
VF:...especially when its something so good, we really felt we had to live up to this material.
JD: But when it came time to make it, it felt very natural.
VD: And we were prepared! I think the biggest fear when making a film is not feeling prepared - that you're going to be on a set and won't know what to do - but we had done our homework. We had broken down every scene, and we knew what we wanted. It was really such a pleasure to actually watch the film take flight.
LF: It's a cracking cast, how difficult was it getting the actors on board? Did you have many people attached from the beginning?
JD: Well, we talked to so many different actors over the course of getting the film made. There were certain actors - like Greg Kinnear - who we thought about from the very beginning. But we met with dozens and dozens of actors over the course of the film. We'd argue with the studio about who was going to big overseas or who would serve this market and that market… we were going crazy. But we had to keep our own list of who we really want. And finally, when this company in New York put up the money, we said here's who we want and within three weeks they were just there.
VF: You know working with the producers over the years, we were all pretty much in synch. So when we suggested Toni Collette, everyone was like, 'I love Toni Collette!' She was someone who we hadn't thought of for a long time, partly because she's younger and she's Australian but she was a fresh idea towards the end.
And then Steve Carell came along! [laughs] We loved his work, but this is not like anything he's ever done before. A neighbour of ours was working with him on The Office and he said, 'you've gotta meet Steve, 'cause when you meet him, you're going to love him.' And that's exactly what happened.
We were all so surprised when he did his first scene. Even the other actors were pulled in by his performance. I remember Toni saying, 'I wanted to cry, I felt so sad for him.'
LF: Young Abigail Breslin plays Olive - the youngest daughter of the family - is a force to be reckoned with. How did you manage to find her?
VF: We did search a lot. Our casting directors actually found Abigail when she was six, but they didn't even show us the tape because they thought she was too young. But in the time that it took to make the movie - she grew up! You know her audition at six was incredible.
JD: She is an amazing actress, the whole cast was in awe of her. We would do long takes where we'd shoot 5 minutes continuously - and she never missed a beat. She's a real child as well; she's not one of those miniature adults.
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