Everybody's Fine is an American remake of Giuseppe Tornatore's 1990 Italian film Stanno Tutti Bene. It has been a passion project of writer/director Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine, Nanny McPhee) and features Robert De Niro as the recently widowed patriarch of the Goode family, visiting each of his children (played by Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell) in New York, Chicago and Las Vegas. Buzzine's Izumi Hasegawa recently sat down with Robert De Niro and Sam Rockwell to talk about family ties, parenting tips and the process of creating an independent movie...
Izumi Hasegawa: Mr. De Niro - at what point did you enter the production process for this film?
Robert De Niro: Kirk [Jones, director] and I had a meeting, and he told me the story and what it was based on. He had photos of the whole project - the traveling across the country - and I was impressed with how passionate about the project he was. I could see he was special and he doesn’t do movies often. This will have been his third. So that was important for me, that he cares so much, obviously. Then I saw the original and his other two movies, and then I read the script. Then we just decided when to do it.
IH: Sam, at what point did you decide you about the project, and what was it about the film that attracted you?
Sam Rockwell: I was excited to work with Kirk and the girls, and especially Bob was a big incentive because I grew up watching Bob’s movies, so I was really excited to do that. I jumped on board pretty quickly.
IH: Mr. De Niro, your father was an artist. Would you consider yourself an artist of a different type? How does your personal life affect the roles you pick and the way you play them?
RDN: I relate to Frank, obviously, and drew on my own experiences like I do in all my parts. You draw on whatever is relevant to the part you’re playing. Makes it more personal. There was a lot here, of course. I have five children, two grandchildren, but also, going back to Kirk being the director and caring - that’s the anchor of the whole thing. That’s really, really important.
IH: More important than the role itself?
RDN: It’s not more important, but it’s equally as important. He has to steer the ship. It’s his baby, so he’s got to make choices and all that. I put myself in his hands, so to speak.
IH: Sam, how was it growing up with your father? Do you feel that you impressed him growing up?
SR: Oh, sure. My dad was very cool with me, as far as becoming an actor. He was an actor at one time, so it was pretty easy with him.
IH: Some of the most moving parts of this firm are when we see the telephone calls. We live in a society now where…when was the last time you heard a busy signal? Do you guys get nostalgic for those times? Are you into the techno-gadgets? Could you each talk about that? Do you Tweet?
RDN: I don’t Twitter. Somebody told me about it. I didn’t know what it was.
SR: I’m Twittering right now.
IH: How do you feel in general about new technology?
SR: I have memories of calling my agent from a phone booth. I can still remember great diners that I went to when I got a callback for that movie. Memories of being frustrated and hitting phone booths, for one audition or another. But the texting thing gets to be too much, for me, certainly. Multi-tasking. I read an article in The Week recently where they said, “What makes a multi-tasker great at being a multi-tasker?” And they said “Nothing!” Because they can’t really do anything well because they’re trying to do too many things.
RDN: I only know how to use a computer. I don’t even know how good I am at it. I slowly use the little things and get e-mails, and I look at videos on the computer and I use an iPhone. I guess I use it adequately.
RDN: My father was pretty easy on me about what I wanted to do - to be an actor and stuff like that. My grandfather was much more strict, more old-school, old-time Italian than my father ever was: That was my impression of him. My father came from that to New York City to get away from certain things, and they raised me kind of easily. The fact that I wanted to be an actor - that was okay with them and my father. And my kids - I try not to be too strict with them because certain things they have to do.
But at the same time, I don’t want them to get away with anything. I think I try to rationalize with them and argue, “Now look, I’m very good with you about certain things, unless you do this. You have to now do this. That’s only fair.” Of course, there are times when that stuff doesn’t work. I’m not the all-knowing, all-seeing… but I think in general, it works pretty good.
IH: You mean curfew kind of things?
RDN: I don’t put a curfew. I’m flexible with certain things that the kids have to do. It’s not like a curfew where they have to go to sleep at a certain time.
IH: Do you approach your comedic work differently than your dramatic work?
RDN: This is a more gentle sort of comedy than, say, Meet the Parents. More of a dramedy.
IH: Mr. De Niro, you have worked on every scale of film, from mega-productions to an indie production like this one, as a producer, an actor and a director. What’s the difference in working in indies versus large films?
RDN: The difference is you have more time. There are a lot more people on the set, a lot more trucks - it’s a big production. I always wonder, when I walk around a big movie and you see all these trucks - I think, “Just to get this, you’ve got to get all these people.” Of course, those are only certain movies that do that. It was good. This, to me, is a normal time to shoot. I think we shot eight weeks, so eight weeks is a pretty good schedule. It’s an independent film. An independent is going to be less than what goes on big films, I think. It costs less to make. And a shorter schedule, like five weeks, four weeks…
IH: Will you be doing more like this?
RDN: I will.
IH: Mr. De Niro, you’ve built your career on playing tough guys, gangsters, police officers… How important is it to you to do something different, something softer? Do you think at all about how people perceive you from movie to movie, or does that not concern you at all?
RDN: No, some people do that, and sometimes I play off that because it’s a certain thing you do — you can make fun of it in certain movies. Like in Meet the Little Fockers, it’s also titled ...Or The Godfocker.
IH: I read that you watched the original Italian version of this movie multiple times: What was your impression of it?
RDN: It was just a different type of movie... I love Mastroianni. Since I was kid, I always watched his movies. He’s been in great films — part of the great Italian tradition, obviously. But it was a different thing, totally. Kirk made it his own. The structure was there and all that stuff, but it was totally different.
Miramax Film's 'Everybody's Fine' is in theaters nationwide on December 4, 2009.