Is the new independent comedy-drama All the Light in the Sky about a Malibu-dwelling, 45-year-old actress called Marie and her dealings with the film industry? Or is it about why we need to accept, and engage with, change — be it personal or global? Actually, this latest film from prolific writer-director Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies) is technically both. However, star Jane Adams, who cowrote All the Light in the Sky with Swanberg, insists the movie is much more a philosophical rumination rather than a Tinseltown dissection.
“It’s got nothing to do with a Hollywood actress,” says Adams, whose credits include the Todd Solondz-directed Happiness, the HBO show Hung, and the forthcoming remake of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist. “That’s a great character, it tells the story in an interesting way, but it is not about that. What’s interesting to me and Joe is how uncomfortable aging — and the idea of death — makes people on every level. People are also uncomfortable with the idea that the sea levels are rising and there’s so much carbon dioxide. And you hear all the facts — everyone knows we’re dying, everyone knows the sea levels are rising — but what does that change about the way we relate to each other? That’s interesting.”
All The Light In The Sky — which costars Sophia Takal, Lindsay Burdge, and the horror directors Larry Fessenden and Ti West — will be released theatrically in select cities December 20 and will also be available to view via VOD and iTunes.
Below, Adams talks more about collaborating with Swanberg, Larry Fessenden’s Jack Nicholson impersonation, and the problem with “sexy grandfathers.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the genesis of this project?
JANE ADAMS: Joe and I started talking about it years ago. I first met Joe when he was making Alexander the Last. And I played a director in that and we knew in five minutes that we wanted to keep making movies together. We started working on Silver Bullets with some of the ideas that are in All The Light in the Sky in mind. For many reasons it became a whole different movie but we always knew we would get back around to them. Then we found an opening and we just made the movie.
You definitely know you’re watching a Joe Swanberg movie when a man and a woman spark romantically while he’s fixing her toilet seat.
Yeah, that’s very Joe, isn’t it? That’s what I love about him.
What was the writing process like?
We sent emails back and forth for a long time with ideas — and text messages even. Joe wrote an outline and sent it to me and we made a few adjustments and then he showed up with two actresses, Lindsay and Sophia, and we just started improvising and shooting. It was an exciting process. And I just want to say honestly and seriously how talented Sophia and Lindsey are. They’re up-and-coming actresses. But Lindsay did that movie recently called A Teacher, which people can watch on iTunes. And you can see Sophia’s (directorial debut) Green on iTunes. They’re definitely people that people will want to see.
Some people are bound to conflate your onscreen character Marie with your real-life self. Do you have a problem with that?
No. I don’t have a problem with it. I think this is something that comes up over and over in Joe’s movies. But there are as many differences as there are similarities.
Over the years, Hollywood has tended to depict actresses as caricatures. Did you want to put forward an alternative view?
Well, I don’t think it’s just actresses. I think it’s women in general past a certain age. It’s what we talk about in the movie — there’s a loss of power. And it’s biological. I don’t even have a problem with it. I just find it interesting that people clearly don’t talk about it as much as we do in All the Light in the Sky. Plus, Joe and I really emphasized the climate change aspect because there’s that same denial about change and different phases of life and decay. People don’t want to look at those things and there’s a certain interesting thing about looking squarely at it.
I’m someone who doesn’t tend to look squarely at such things. There’s a point early on when your character reveals that she is 45 — which is my age — and I thought, I wish she was either a year younger or a year older than me. I find the fact that she’s exactly my age to be disconcerting.
That fascinates me. What is it?
It’s just too spot on for me, personally.
Yes! Right? But isn’t it interesting to explore that, instead of avoiding it? The reality is, it’s happening, it’s happening. I love you so much — that is what the movie is about.
I don’t want to think about it because there’s not anything I can do about it.
But there is! There is so much you can do! It’s like Marie says — when she was trying to avoid that there was this shift, things don’t go so well. But then as soon as you accept it, there are more options open. I love the fact that you just admitted to me that you’re 45.
I don’t have any choice.
None of us do! We’re all like that. But we’re sold this bill of goods, like we’re in charge of it, and if you exercise enough, or if you do this or do that, you’re gonna… But we’re not in charge of this.
I always think I look pretty good until I walk by a mirror, of which there are far too many. Why are there so many mirrors in restaurants? Who wants to watch themselves eat?
Well, and also, now can we talk about photos? We’re constantly being photographed. Young people point their iPhones and say, “Here. let me take a picture.” It’s like, “No, you don’t understand, I’m over 45! I don’t want to see that right now!” But in a way it’s kind of great to just accept it and say, “Yeah, that’s who I am.” Then I’ll spend more time with my friends’ kids than at the hair salon trying to stave off the inevitable.
I think it’s just depressing because of the denial and all of it. Don’t you love it when you see somebody who’s just like, “Yeah, I’m an old dude.” But I love that the movie makes people have the conversation that we’ve just had. That was what Joe and I wanted. We’re all in the same boat: Writers, actors, directors, the guy who sold you a slice of pizza two days ago. Just start looking around. Like, “What’s going on? I’m getting old!” But if we all could talk about it and have some acceptance of that. Sexy grandfathers? No! Just teach the kids!
Moving on, I once described Larry Fessenden — not unkindly — as looking like “a young Jack Nicholson in a world without dentistry…”
Then you must have loved this [film]!
I was certainly tickled when he started doing a Jack Nicholson imitation.
[Laughs] I’m so glad to hear you say that. I felt that there would be people like you, who were very glad just to see him give in. [Laughs] Larry was doing an impersonation and I just looked at Joe and said, “You know he’s going to have to do that in the film.” Seriously, the movie is about acceptance, let’s just accept that. I also, by the way, think that Jack Nicholson is incredibly talented. So it was a bit of an homage as well.
You can actually imagine Nicholson being in a movie like this, back when he was making existential Westerns one minute and the Monkees movie Head the next.
Can I just tell you, if you write that — and you include that it would be with Jane Adams — I’ll send you a dozen roses. I mean, come on. What a beautiful thing you just said. I’m serious.
If you could send booze instead, that would be much appreciated.
[Laughs] Good to know. I was just watching the Shining because of Poltergeist. So, what else?
Well, what can you tell us about Poltergeist?
Not much. [Laughs] I will say about Poltergeist that I think it’s got a great cast as well. Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt are great. We’re having a wonderful time!
You can check out the trailer for All the Light in the Sky below.