RW: There are many stages. The first is panic — absolute panic. I walked into Starbucks and they were playing Christmas music last week, and I had an absolute panic attack. I was like “turn it off!” I’m not ready. I think I have to get through Thanksgiving first and then you know it starts with the parties, and then it starts with the family. That’s when the family starts trickling in. And then you finally get to get rid of the family, then you get to sleep for a few days, then it’s New Year’s. Then it’s all over.
EI: Do you miss it when it’s all over?
RW: No. I’m not a look-back kind of person. I’m a go-forward gal.
EI: This doesn’t seem to be like the kind of holiday movie you’d think of the whole family, including the kids, going to.
RW: Yes, this is not for your children. Well, it’s PG-13.
EI: What’s your idea of a good holiday movie? And what was your reaction to reports that you and Vince [Vaughn] were making this that popped up in the press that said you two weren’t getting along?
RW: Well, first of all, I don’t know where all that came from. Every co-star I ever work with I’m either having an affair with him, I’m about to get married to him, we’re having a baby, or we absolutely cannot stand each other.
EI: It’s always true.
RW: Well, always. Because that’s how you feel about everybody you know, right? You can’t just get along with people and work with them. There has to be some sort of drama. But now we got along great and we were very good friends, and we’re very much partners on this movie. We decided to produce it together and we rewrote the script together, and every day was like “how are we going to do this? What are we going to do now?” My idea of a holiday movie…I don’t know. My family always went to movies on Christmas day, so whatever movie was coming out — Godfather or…yeah, I know. [Laughs] You know, Elephant Man — things like that. Cheerful holiday fare. No, it’s fun to go to the movies on the holidays, and it’s nice to be part of a movie that you know at least the grownups can go see, and the teenagers and stuff. My kids are looking forward to a lot of movies, mainly Bolt. They’re very excited about Bolt. And Wall-E is playing on DVD at my house like on a loop as soon as it comes out. Every day.
EI: How would you slot this as a holiday movie? How would you describe this to people?
RW: Well, it’s all about you know a couple who avoids their families at the holidays and, through a series of circumstances, have to go home to all four families and they have to face that horrible fear of bringing home your significant other to meet every humiliating memory that you have of your past. And everyone avoids it. There’s a natural human instinct to avoid it, so it’s that comedy about having to deal with it.
EI: This movie is also about divorced couples and parents. You yourself are divorced. What is the compromise that you have done with your ex-husband to make it nice for your children?
RW: I think the most important thing is the children. It’s like, what do they want? What makes them feel comfortable? What makes them happy? And I think just to bear that in mind, and the most important thing is to be a grownup about it and not let any feelings affect how you deal with your children. I think that’s the most important thing, so I’m very lucky in that we raised our kids to just be happy and it’s all about them. What do they want?
EI: Do the kids go with Ryan [Phillippe] one day and you the next?
RW: Oh, I don’t know. It’s not that formal. There’s a lot of communication and a lot of just being very open about things. There’s nothing contentious about any of it, so it’s all very go-with-the-flow, whatever happens in the moment.
EI: It’s very relatable to have a couple who can’t commit to each other. What can singles and couples learn about love from watching the film?
RW: I think it’s interesting, that idea. First of all, it’s a very modern idea that we’re going to be together but not be married and never have children, and it sounds like something people theorize about, but it’s very difficult to do because people grow and evolve and change. It’s interesting to see how this relationship in the movie has to grow. I think the most important thing that we really worked on was finding that place where to be comfortable in the uncomfortable — not knowing where things are going to go and still feeling okay about that. And then we really worked hard on trying to find that in words and in scenes.
EI: Can you walk us through more of the development process and how that engrained your relationship with Seth [Gordon] and Vince [Vaughn]? What was it like with Vince on the set, because so much of what he does seems off-the-cuff.
RW: Yeah, it is. Well, that’s not entirely true. I mean, we knew every day what we were shooting. We definitely had a script and we worked on it very hard. We worked on it for four months, before we ever went on set, every day for five or six hours a day. We really worked on the script and each scene and broke it down and threw scenes away and started over, so that by the time we got to shooting, we really knew what we were doing. Seth was there the whole time, and Vince was there, so that gave me a taste of what the improv situation was going to be because he’s so very smart and very funny on top of it — off the top of his head. The funniest person I’ve ever worked with in my entire life. But also, it’s so important when you’re working with that kind of person to create a space where they feel free to do whatever they want to do and you know you can stay there with them and keep up with them. So that was good. It was a challenge for me, and I had to really keep up with him, and he taught me a lot about improv and adlibbing, and I feel a better actor for that experience.
EI: How did Seth guide the two of you through that?
RW: Seth’s biggest strength is editing. He knew that he could let us be as free as we wanted to be when we were shooting because, being a documentarian, he knows how to cut footage — that’s all you do. So we were really confident that he would find the storyline with all the characters and all the set pieces and the funny parts.
EI: I wanted to ask your reaction to Joaquin Phoenix announcing his retirement from acting. Also, in this movie, there’s a great scene where Vince blows the news about Santa Claus to the kids. I was wondering when you found out that Santa Claus wasn’t real.
RW: Well, I remember that, for me, I was in the second grade when Marybeth decided to, in front of the entire second grade for show-and-tell, tell everyone there was no Santa Claus. That was her show-and-tell, and the whole class burst into tears. [Laughs] She got in a lot of trouble and got sent home.
EI: Did you believe her?
RW: Well, no. And then she had to come back the next day and say it wasn’t really true. She was just really lying to not hurt people’s feelings. Poor thing. It was a psychological mess. But yeah, someone told me that about Joaquin today. I hadn’t heard that.
EI: If he had won the Oscar, do you think he would have not returned?
RW: I don’t think Joaquin cares about Oscars. He’s a great, creative spirit. Whatever he puts his energy into, whether it’s acting or…I don’t know what he’s going to do, but…
EI: What about the idea he felt like he was done?
RW: He’s great. He’s done amazing things. He’s done a great job, and whatever he wants to do to be happy, he’s a great guy.
EI: Talk about your height difference.
RW: Well, they couldn’t make Vince smaller. We tried. [Laughs] We tried to take his shoes off and all that, but no, he’s 6’5″ and I’m 5’2″, so he’s over a foot taller than me. We had a really funny scene — I don’t know if it’s in the movie anymore — where he rolls over me. We were in bed and then, at the very end he rolls over and goes to sleep, and he rolls over and lays on top of me. [Laughs] It was like a tree trunk had just landed on me. [Laughs] I kept going, “Timber.” It was really funny. But no, I stood on a lot of boxes and they had to build ramps that were about the same size as where I should be. It was a challenge, and especially the kissing scene. It was hard to get up there to kiss him, but we worked it out.
EI: And the dancing…?
RW: He had to pick me up for half of the dancing. If you saw our feet, he’s actually holding me in the air so we can stay in the same frame.
EI: We see one of that where he’s spinning you around.
RW: In one yeah, where you tilt down and you can see he’s got me lifted up. It’s really funny. He’s a fantastic dancer. He’s a very, very good dancer, which I probably figure from Swingers and stuff, but I mean they were teaching him dances and I couldn’t keep up, and he was like “Oh, it’s a one, two, cha, cha, cha.”
EI: When you were a little girl, did you always want to be a mom? Was there a time when you thought you wouldn’t want to be a mom?
RW: Well, I understood because, before I had kids, I never held a baby, I never babysat, I didn’t have any cousins, so when I first held my baby, Ava, that was the first time I’d ever held a baby in my life, so I understand that fear of not being a good mom. It took me a long time to feel really comfortable in the role of mother.
EI: A lot of us just spoke with Robert Pattinson, who’s going to be in Twilight now, and he says he was in Vanity Fair with you. He played your son.
RW: Yes, he did.
EI: What do you remember of him?
RW: I remember he was very handsome. I do remember that. I was like, “I have a really handsome son.” No, it was an older version of my character who had been a ruined woman, and she was at the end of her life, and I remember I just had to sob and cry all over him. It’s like, “ah.” He was great. He was a wonderful actor.
EI: One of the funniest scenes in the movie is the jump-jump scene. Were you scared of that? Could you relate to anything in your childhood that you were scared of? Are you kids afraid of something like that?
RW: After I had to shoot the jump-jump for two consecutive weeks, I’m very, very scared of the jump-jump. Literally, we were on that thing for two weeks solid on a sound stage with all those children, and of course one kid decided to eat too many Doritos one day and got on the jump-jump, and then it was like the screaming and the evacuating because he threw up all over the jump-jump and there were all these balloons inside the…oh, it was disgusting. It was major contamination. But then we had to get back on and shoot it, and the show goes on, so we had to get back up there. I threw out my shoulder throwing one of those ten-year-old boys aside, but it was fun for me. I don’t really get to do that kind of physical comedy that often, so it was fun to get to try that stuff.
EI: Were you afraid of something like that in your childhood?
RW: No, I was that kind of kid who’d jump off a bridge if someone told me to do it. I had a big brother who was like, “Just do it.” I was like, “Okay, brother, whatever you want to do.” So yeah, I didn’t have a lot of fear. I’ve grown up and become very fearful, which is a good thing.
EI: What attracts you so much about comedy?
RW: I just enjoy it. I have a really good time and it means a lot to me when I get to have experiences where I meet young people who say, “It’s what got me through a hard time,” or “This is the movie that I watched with my family or I watch with my children…” It’s a big deal for me. And for a while, I was like, I get tired of being labeled sometimes, but I’ve been very lucky. I’ve gotten to do Walk the Line and Rendition and Vanity Fair and, you know, different kinds of movies, so I feel really lucky that I can go back and forth between stuff.
EI: Was this a conscious thing? Right at the beginning, when you and Vince have that bar scene where you’re actually role-playing but it’s so sexual…people don’t think of you in those terms.
RW: Vince thought of that. Those were Vince’s terms. No, I thought it was very genius too because we were playing on what do people think of us in movies. And he said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if you were the blowing-me-off really sexy person and I was a big nerd and trying to come on to you?” And we thought it was really funny, so it ended up in the movie.
EI: Was there a Christmas that you identified with of the four different houses you go to?
RW: Probably the one where you have to go to church. We always had to go to a lot of church. It was a lot of church and nativity plays and all that kind of stuff. So growing up, I did a lot of that.
EI: Seth described you as a very powerful person. Do you feel powerful emotionally and spiritually right now? What about hollywood power?
RW: I have no idea. I don’t know what kind of power he’s talking about. No, I’m just very clear. I’m not wishy-washy. I tell people exactly how I feel about things. If I’m mad at you, you know within a minute. There’s no ambiguity. It’s nice to be in a place like I’m getting older and I don’t feel as fearful of people’s ideas of who I am. I’m just becoming clearer about that myself. I’m able to express myself better.
EI: What about your Hollywood power?
RW: What Hollywood power?
EI: The power you have in getting movies made…
RW: I don’t know — people say that or they tell you you’re on a list, and it’s wonderful. It’s very nice to be, but I don’t know what it translates… I mean, obviously I’m very lucky. I get opportunities to play great parts and work with great directors. That’s the best part about it, I think. It really creates opportunities for me that I didn’t have before.
EI: What would you want for Christmas this year? Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?
RW: Oh gosh. Christmas this year? I don’t know. Someone to help me out with some stuff. I could really use some help. [Laughs]
EI: You mean housecleaning help?
RW: No, I have a garden and that’s a lot of work, and I just get tired of doing all that stuff, but I like it. It’s kind of nice. I have a farm so I’d like chickens. I’d like an Araucana chicken. That would be really nice. They lay blue eggs. I know I’m going to get hounded to get a horse this year. I don’t have a horse, so I have a feeling I know I’m going to have two little people pulling on my leg going, “Can we have a horse?”
EI: And resolutions…?
RW: Not yet. Gosh, can’t we just get through Thanksgiving? So much pressure.
EI: How do you get everything done in your life?
RW: I just try not to look too far in the future. I just try to stay day-by-day and week-by-week, and then it gets terrifying and daunting if you look at the big picture. It’s a lot. So I just try to keep it simple.
EI: In the movie, the philosophy is that the right thing to do for a couple is to get married and have kids. Do you agree with that?
RW: I think the message is more it’s important to stay open to whatever your relationship evolves into. I don’t even think we say at the end we’re married. I don’t think it says that. It’s very open. So many people…I’m guilty of this too myself, that I have a certain idea what I thought marriage and kids and the whole life and things are, and sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. So you have to be open to whatever comes your way in life, and that life and love and relationships take all kinds of shapes and that it’s not necessarily the one you recognize.
EI: Does that mean you would or would never get married again?
RW: I don’t know. I don’t think about it much.
EI: I was wondering if your kids believe in Santa Claus, and how would you feel if someone spoiled it for them, like in the movie?
RW: Yes, my kids believe in all sorts of things. We have all sorts of fairies for different holidays, like we have a Halloween fairy on top of the tooth fairy and Easter bunny, I’m like, “how did this happen that I have to get more things?” We have a Halloween fairy. But yeah, they still do, and kids find out that kind of stuff on their own.
EI: How would you feel if a grownup told them?
RW: What, are you suggesting there’s not a Santa Claus? Is that what you’re saying? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t even want to hear about it anymore. You sit down.
EI: What are the pitfalls of making a Christmas film?
RW: I just thought this was a different kind of Christmas movie. I’ve never really seen someone have to deal with blended family and how they have to go to a million different places, but I hear people complain about it constantly and I’d never seen a movie about it. And I was excited to work with Vince. I just think he has a different kind of comedy. It’s renegade and crazy, and he always has crazy ideas right in the moment. It’s just fun to be part of that energy, so I knew it would be original and interesting.
EI: What does Christmas mean to you personally? What do you think it means to the rest of the world?
RW: To the rest of the country, or the world?
EI: I was talking about the rituals of Japan.
RW: Well, for me, I go to church on Christmas Eve, and I like to hear the music and all that stuff, and be quiet and thoughtful about what the holiday really means for me. It’s just about family and togetherness. It’s about a lot of cooking and playing games and seeing my friends, mainly about kids. It’s all about them enjoying their day and doing what they love to do. That’s what makes it so much better, when you have everyone around you and you can see the joy that they have. I think a lot of it is just about traditions. We tried to explore each one of those traditions in the film. We had family photos and playing games and all kinds of stuff that people mark as traditions in their family.
EI: Have you ever done more than one Christmas in a day, and how are your kids planning to split their time with mom and dad this Christmas?
RW: Let me see. Have I ever done that? I don’t know. I think it’s pretty standard we’d be at my family’s house and then we’d go out to my aunt and uncle’s house. So yeah, we’d do that kind of stuff. That’s kind of how it is, I think.
EI: What was it like to work with two greats — Mary [Steenburgen] and Sissy [Spacek]?
RW: It was so fun. And Jon Voight and Robert Duvall… I have the biggest crush on Robert Duvall. He’s such a great southern guy, and Tender Mercies…and he was so great in The Apostle. Big crush. And well, Sissy was just so great too. We talked about playing country singers and stuff like that. There was a lot of Oscars on the set.
EI: Was there a day everybody brought him?
RW: Bring your Oscar to work day? [Laughs] No, we should have. It would have been really funny. It was fun.
EI: There’s a scene in the film where the family has a $10 Christmas budget. How would your family respond to that?
RW: Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t you like to like record the look on their faces? [Laughs] No, my family’s not a big expense. My family always had like a thing — everybody always got one gift, and whether it was like chocolate or flowers, it’d be like the nicest little chocolates you could get, but that was all you got. Or one really nice toy but it was beautifully made. So it was always about the quality of things, not the quantity of things. I like that.
EI: The scene at the church when you get stage fright — when did you ever have stage fright, and did you ever have to play a character in a pageant like that?
RW: Yes, I get very bad stage fright. I get really, really bad, and I’m really bad at those luncheons where you have to talk. I’m terrible at it. Or even at the awards shows, I’m so, so, so nervous. My knees are sweating, my elbows are sweating…just sweating in abnormal places. You just basically have to push me on the stage. But I’m getting a little better at it. I was in nativity plays when I was little. All I remember was just desperately wanting to play Mary in the nativity play, and the preacher’s daughter got it and I was so mad. So mad. You can’t really compete with the preacher’s daughter, can you?
EI: What did you get?
RW: I think I was like the third sheep from the left [laughs]…and very angry about it.
EI: Through your work with the Children’s Defense Fund, we know you care about children. How important do you think it will be to have a couple of children in the White House dealing with some of those issues?
RW: You never know. I just I have the highest hopes that there’s going to be a real focus on children and community and education. I know that, in these times, those are like low on the ladder, but I think there are a lot of things that could be done to help educate kids about what’s going on and really get to the root of the problem which fundamental. We need educate people so that these sorts of situations don’t come up. But yeah, it’ll be nice. I’m excited to see those sweet little girls. They’re so sweet, and they look like a really nice family. It’ll be interesting. I understand traveling and having to spend on houses in lots of different places, so I feel for them. It’s hard.
EI: Working with Kristin Chenoweth, has anyone told you how much you two look alike? She seems like such a dynamo. What was it like working with her?
RW: I used to get stopped all the time — “Are you on West Wing?” I was like, “No, I’m not on West Wing.” My girlfriend’s like, ”Oh, because there’s a girl who looks just like you on West Wing, and she talks just like you and she’s just like you.” And I was like, “Really?” And then I ran into her at an awards show and I met her, and I realized I had seen her in Wicked and all this stuff, and so I was like oh, wouldn’t it be fun if we got to play sisters? And turns out she’s just the sweetest, nicest little country girl from Oklahoma, and just sweet and wonderful, so it came up and we called her and asked her to do the movie and she said yes. We lucked out. She was very busy at the time too.
EI: She’s actually shorter than you.
RW: I know, she is. She’s tinier than tiny, y’all. She’s like 4’11″ or something like that. She’s small.
EI: What is the most important thing to have in a good relationship?
RW: Well, I think my character and his character learn, in this movie, that it’s important to have honesty and openness and communication. You can’t have a relationship without those things.
EI: Is there any historical person that you want to be friends with?
RW: You mean in the history of time? Lots of people. I don’t know. I’m not sure I can narrow it down to one.
New Line Cinema's 'Four Christmases' is released on November 26, 2008.