Mitchell says she brings 'grace and economy' to the role

John Cameron Mitchell, director of “Rabbit Hole,” hears it all the time.

“Whenever you say her name, people go, I love her,'” says Mitchell of Dianne Wiest. The actress plays Nat, the loopy-yet-wise mother of Nicole Kidman’s character, Becca, who is struggling with the loss of her 4-year-old son.

“She knew we were desperate for her, that she was our first choice and only choice,” says Kidman, who also is one of the film’s producers. “It would’ve been a terrible blow if she’d said ‘no,’ ” which almost happened.

“Dianne had seen Tyne Daly do that role on stage, and couldn’t see it done any other way,” notes Mitchell, “but she loves Nicole, and that really is the reason she did this.”

Mitchell credits Wiest’s ability to portray characters in a naturalistic way for the success of her performance.

“She has an inherent grace and economy. Everything is so understated with her, yet deeply believable,” which is particularly helpful, he says, with comic moments. “There’s a certain amount of schtick with Nat, as well as heavy emotion. Another actor might stray into laugh-grabbing or heartstring-tugging mode, which Dianne never does. Even in the broadest comedy, she’s completely naturalistic, yet precise.”

Her experience pays off, Mitchell notes, even in the slightest of facial expressions. During a key scene in the film, Nat is trying to console Becca over the telephone, urging her to take solace in spirituality, to which Becca barks barbs at her mother.

“We actually shot that scene by getting Dianne on the other end of a telephone from where she was, while Nicole did her shots, and vice versa,” the director explains. “Usually it’s the script supervisor reading the other lines.”

Wiest’s response to Becca’s harsh attack betrays more than just a simple “ouch.”

“She’s playing a woman that was probably a bit of a doormat for her domineering husband,” notes Mitchell of Wiest’s character, “and has a lot of regrets, maybe not saying anything when he acted out with the kids. With Dianne, you see that, just in the subtlety of a response, even if it’s just a look. There’s a great deal of history that she can portray in a glance.”

More from Eye on the Oscars: The Actress:
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LEAD ACTRESSES
Annette Bening | Sally Hawkins | Nicole Kidman | Jennifer Lawrence | Natalie Portman | Tilda Swinton
Lead actresses in the mix
SUPPORTING ACTRESSES
Amy Adams | Helena Bonham Carter | Melissa Leo | Miranda Richardson | Jacki Weaver | Dianne Wiest
Supporting actresses in the mix

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