(*homocinematically inclined)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Reel Thoughts Interview: Frances Fisher's Sedona Adventure

It’s been six years since director Tommy Stovall released the gripping thriller Hate Crime, and he has been working on his follow-up film, Sedona: The Motion Picture ever since. The comic drama is a love letter to the town he and his partner Marc Sterling call home, and it shows. Their son Trevor even stars in the film as a young boy who wanders away from his two fathers (Hate Crime’s Seth Peterson and Matthew Williamson) in the Sedona woods. Frances Fisher anchors the film as Tammy, a high powered ad executive who has a run-in with a small plane on Sedona’s 89A highway, and ends up stranded in the New Age paradise. Fisher’s friend, Sordid Lives’ Beth Grant, suggested her for the role after scoring the part of the aura-reading salon owner Deb.

Fisher’s Tammy is oblivious to her beautiful surroundings and just wants to get out of town (like Bill Murray in Quick Change and Griffin Dunne in After Hours). Deb tells her that there is some reason that she’s stuck in Sedona, and Tammy finds herself flashing back to a traumatic incident that occurred on her birthday many years earlier. Coincidentally, it is Tammy’s birthday that day, and the town crazy, Claire de Loon (Lin Shaye) is running around demanding people sing “Happy Birthday” with her.

With hyper-saturated aerial shots of the gorgeous Sedona scenery and recognizable settings like the Red Planet Diner, Sedona: The Motion Picture captures the vibe of the funky and affluent town, and the cast is filled with actors you’ll recognize such as the sublime Grant, Barry Corbin from Northern Exposure, Christopher Atkins from The Blue Lagoon and Robert Shields of the mime duo Shields and Yarnell. The film’s low budget gives it a homegrown charm and Fisher is amazing, playing comedy as well as serious drama as her past catches up with her. Stovall’s son is engaging and adorably non-actorly, making you feel terrible when Peterson treats him so coldly.

The Sedona Chamber of Commerce could not have produced a better travelogue, and don’t be surprised if a certain statue prominently featured in the film gets a whole lot more people looking up its loincloth.

Frances Fisher is one of those striking red-haired actresses like Tilda Swinton who immediately imbue their characters with gravitas and integrity, be it as Deborah Saxon in the soap opera Edge of Night, Lucille Ball in Lucy and Desi: Before the Laughter or as Kate Winslet’s mother in Titanic. Despite feeling very sick, the star was gracious enough to talk to me about her role in Sedona and other work she’s done.

She was attracted to the role in Sedona when her pal Beth Grant suggested it for a few reasons. “Beth was in as Debbie and I like Sedona and I like playing someone who’s going through a transformation, because that’s what we’re all here to do on this planet, is to learn and grow.”

Fisher, who has a daughter Francesca with her conservative ex Clint Eastwood, isn’t shy about stating her support for same-sex marriage, and happiness with the recent Prop 8 ruling. “I believe that any two people who love each other should be allowed all the rights and privileges of any other two people who love each other legally and emotionally and spiritually.” Her Sedona director and his partner Marc Sterling are good examples of how conventional a same-sex marriage with children can be.

She had to hit the ground running, arriving late the night before filming commenced and wrapping up filming twenty-three days later. There were a lot of locations where they had to shoot, only allowing for one or two takes of any scene, but that contributed to her fish-out-of-water disorientation. “It was pretty intense,” she remarked.

Fisher received good notices for her performance as Lucille Ball, but she was sad that there was so little preparation time allowed. At one point when she was supposed to do Ball’s iconic comedy bit with a bass, the prop people handed her a fiddle.

She’s pleased to see Jessica Chastain, her costar from the 2008 Arizona-set film Jolene, receive such acclaim this year in The Help, The Tree of Life and The Debt. “(Jolene) was her first movie ever and I’m thrilled. She’s a great actress and she’s a good friend and I’m very, very happy for her success.”

Fisher will also soon be swept up in another Oscar-winning media frenzy when Titanic gets its star-studded 3D London premiere, which she will attend. It turns out that surviving the Titanic’s sinking onscreen was not the only disaster Fisher would escape. On Christmas day 2001, Fisher and her daughter narrowly escaped a fire that engulfed their home, with Francesca reportedly jumping from her upstairs window into her mother’s arms.

Fisher definitely brings that maternal fighting instinct to her role in Sedona, and you will love her passionate and comedic work in the film.

Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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