Minnie Driver plays the second wife of charming rascal Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) in their new film, Barney's Version. The multi-talented actress is also in a band, with a new album coming out. Get the inside scoop in Buzzine's exclusive behind-the-scenes interview.
Izumi Hasegawa: How did you get that accent? It was so dead-on...
Minnie Driver: I rang the Jewish Community Center in Montreal and I talked to a lady there for a while a few times, and then we just made a transcript of this lady telling me how to poach an egg. It was hard, but it was good. I really liked it.
IH: But it's not only an accent–it's an attitude. I don't know if they use JCP (Jewish Canadian Princess) the way we use JAP (Jewish American Princess) here in the States.
MD: I think they must. They would have to.
IH: And the attitude--I don't think you can get that from someone describing poaching an egg to you. What kind of research did you do, or does simply working in Hollywood give you all the information you need?
MD: Probably. It's about what's funny and how far you can push doing something big with it while still being real.
IH: Were you nervous the first day doing that?
MD: Definitely. And I wanted to go back and reshoot that first scene so badly after we got into it for a bit. It was hard; it was a scary first day.
IH: Which scene--the one at the party? Or in Rome?
MD: In Rome. The honeymoon scene. I loved it, it was wild. It was really fun, it was great. It's interesting to try to push yourself.
IH: All these beautiful women falling for a guy who...there's a charm there, but physically he's not the first guy you'd be attracted to at the dance, is he?
MD: I've said he must have been a tiger in the sack. Barney Panofsky must be something to write home about, because he does pull all these gorgeous women. I don't know, there's something charming about him. Got a raffish charm.
IH: Good wit and charm goes a long way, right?
MD: Wit and charm. You can love someone into that, for sure.
IH: Your character's arrangement with him is more like a business arrangement. They like each other, but it seems more like the traditional...parents fixing them up thing.
MD: Oh, no. His uncle helped him meet me, but my parents didn't want me to marry him. I think he's a big rebellion. He's as rebellious as the second Mrs. P gets in that he's a television producer, he has a vulgar father, he's a rebellion for her. But she still wants just a nice, quiet, suburban life with him.
IH: Your character is attracted to this guy, but how attractive do you find him? Do you prefer the suburban life, or what are you looking for?
MD: Paul is gorgeous. I just want to be happy, that's all. I don't really care what form that takes. I'll stand upside down and talk about the Kabbalah in Urdu if it'll make me happy, if someone told me that.
IH: What was it like to have Dustin Hoffman on set? Richard (J. Lewis) was telling us he had all these dirty jokes and was entertaining everybody.
MD: He does do that. He is an amazing character. The amount that he messes around and has a good time, that stops immediately when he's working. When he's working, he's working. He's extraordinary, he really is. He's absolutely amazing and very fun to be around. It's very bawdy, his humor, but it's incredibly entertaining. He made fun of me a lot.
IH: During those dinner scenes?
MD: Oh my God, in the wedding scene, yeah, and in the dinner scene. But it's like a master class. That one dinner scene we did, it really was like watching a master work. He's amazing.
IH: Because he kind of throws it at the window a little bit, right?
MD: Completely, and then he just does his thing until he's done. There's not really any directing him either. You just let him go, and he did it a hundred different ways. I think we had to come back and reshoot our stuff again because they were shooting Dustin's way first, and by the time we got to the end of it--I think lunch was in the middle, and then we came back in the afternoon--the stuff they'd already shot on us just didn't match anything. [We had to] come back again. It was funny.
IH: So he doesn't prepare you--he just starts going and then you've got to keep up with him?
MD: Definitely, which is great, actually, because there's no one better to keep up with, if you can do it. We didn't have to say anything. I felt bad for the actors that did because it was never, ever the same, and you never knew where it was going to change with him.
IH: You mean your parents?
MD: Yeah. Paul and I were just reacting to him. It was great.
IH: Do you ever go back and look at the book to find out more about the characters that didn't necessarily make the screenplay?
MD: I read bits of the book, yeah. It's a lot. It's too much. I didn't have enough time to get through it before we started shooting and really working on the script and the accent. It was very interesting to flesh it out a little bit, but you can start off doing it, particularly if you start playing stuff that isn't there on the script. It doesn't help you.
IH: She, as a character, is so determined to be married, and I wondered if that was something that was of that time, because it's not that it's that long ago...
MD: I think it was of her milieu, of her family, the world in which she lived--that was what you were aiming for, to be married--to marry a nice Jewish boy and have kids and live a nice life and go to temple and eat a lot. It was very simple, what she was looking for.
IH: Even though she had a degree from McGill?
MD: That was that. I don't think things worked out quite as she presents them, but that's just me. I think she might have had a bad engagement before Barney.
IH: Are you raising your kid here or in the UK? And how is he?
MD: He's amazing. I live here. I go back to England quite frequently, and it's really good. It's lovely, he's very funny, very sweet.
IH: How old is he?
IH: Which accent does he have?
MD: He just decided he has an American... He sounds like an old man from Quebec, because now he's like, "Mommy, this is better: 'Wah-dder, I want wah-dder.'" And he was saying "water" up until about a week ago. Now he says, "I want a glass of wah-dder." Yeah, he's funny.
IH: Sometimes they pick up strange accents at preschool.
MD: He got it off his friend. His friend has a French-Canadian dad, and that's where they both got it from. It's funny.
IH: You have stage experience. Not everyone who steps in front of the cameras has had that experience of being there with nothing between you and the audience but air and their breathing. Can you tell the difference when you're working with people who have been on stage? Is there something about an actor who's got that in their background that comes through, even when you're doing the kind of start and stop that you do in filming?
MD: I trained in it, but I only got a few professional engagements, like three or four. I wanted more. The couple of times I've noticed it, it hasn't been for the better--making a film with a stage actor. I've been like, "Bring it down a little bit..." I think it's more about people who are really experienced. I think that comes across--people who have just done it a lot, and they're not doing it by rote. Like for Dustin Hoffman, it's still an art. He's still exploring an art and is fascinated by that. I don't know that you're necessarily better if you've done stage. I really don't.
IH: Are you still singing and recording?
MD: I'm still singing, yeah, and I'm about to make another record in February.
IH: Are you writing your own songs? What kind of music are you performing?
MD: I've written everything on the first two records, but this next one is a covers record.
IH: Covers of what? Rock? Adult contemporary?
MD: I'm covering very different songs from a lot of different genres, but they're put through my band and the way my band plays, which is kind of alternative-country-ish.
IH: Are you going to tour?
MD: I don't know, maybe. Probably. They'll probably want me to.
IH: Where do you see your biggest music fans?
MD: I don't know, they're in pockets all over. It's not like we're playing huge venues; we're just playing to six or seven hundred people. It's quite good, it's nice, but all around the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast, the East Coast... I've never really been down South; I'd really like to go down there. But it's good, it's really nice.
IH: Do you find that it's a different relationship with the audience? When you're making a film, it may be a couple of years before there's actually an audience responding to it, and when you're on stage performing music, they respond immediately. But especially when you do music, it seems more intimate. It's something coming from you the songwriter, or you the performer, more directly. Do you relate to the audience in that way? Do they feel a sense of kinship or relationship with you because of that?
MD: You'd have to ask them, but it's certainly an interesting experience, performing that way. Maybe it's why I never loved doing theatre so much. I like standing up and singing stuff that I've written, or with people who've written stuff, but I don't know. I like it, taking away all of the things between you and it. It's interesting. I don't know why I like film acting then so much, because it's not that. There's no audience. It's much more precise, but maybe because it requires such a discipline.
IH: You've been involved in environmental and animal rights issues, and I was thinking of Temple Grandin. You can't watch that film and not be concerned about the issues that she was exploring, and when you get involved in something like that, do you think that a work of art, a piece of film or music, can change people's minds, or is it just a matter of getting the ideas out there?
MD: I don't think you can do stuff with the thought of what the outcome is going to be. At the very best, yes, you could hope that you would effect change through art, but I don't think you could make that your raison d'être because I think you'll be let down. But yes, I do think it can, absolutely 100%, if the stars line up. But I would need to keep doing it anyway.
Sony Pictures Classics' 'Barney's Version' is in theaters January 14, 2011.