Nobody does quiet, roiling domestic drama with quite the razor-sharp insight of Todd Field. His debut feature “In the Bedroom” (2001) — with its mixture of langorous poetry and suppressed rage — caused a sensation at Sundance, where Field won the grand jury prize before the film went on to earn five Oscar nominations, including those for director and picture. Like “Bedroom,” “Little Children” is adapted from a literary work, Tom Perrotta’s novel about marital infidelity among suburbanites enervated by unrealized dreams and unnerved by a sexual predator in their midst.
GENESIS: “My business partner Leon Vitali had been sent Tom’s novel in galleys by (producers) Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa and said, ‘You’ve got to read this.’ When I read it for the first time, I thought, ‘What the hell is this and what has he done to me as a reader?’ I thought it was going to be pure satire, but then it wasn’t. He’s generous with those characters when you least expect it. There’s an odd braiding between the satire and real feeling and sincerity. It’s melodrama, which is different from being melodramatic. The braiding of these two ideas: of judgment, fear and polarization, and the idea of matriarchy, kindness and giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Those were very unusual things to find coupled in a book.”
VISION: “I had some visual references, such as Gregory Crewdson’s photography, because I didn’t want to do suburbia. I wanted to have sort of a dream idea of my own childhood. Places like May and Ronnie’s house — I grew up in a house full of clocks, I know that wallpaper from my grandmother’s house. We built the park. So it’s this idea of a dreamlike memory of the suburbs, because I love the suburbs; I grew up in them; I’m a product of them. I don’t think of (suburbanites) as being ‘those little people,’ and I never had any intention of sending them up.”
CHALLENGES: “One of the challenges was trying to piece together this sort of memory of a place that was supposed to be New England within the five burroughs of New York. And 40% of the shooting schedule involved those two 3½-year-old children (with mandatory shorter days). There were no doubles, so if they had to take a nap, they had to take a nap. And those six-hour days could become four hours. And it’s always a big challenge to work with a new crew, though I had worked with some before. It’s like starting a small business all over again.
“But everyone deals with these things. There are these big monsters you’re terrified you’re going to face, and they turn out to be kittens. And then the most trivial, trite, mundane thing will be what gets you every single time. It’s a very masochistic thing, filmmaking.”
MAGIC: “What these actors did with these roles. … Actors are your greatest collaborators. Oftentimes there’s a lot more drama offscreen than onscreen because people are concerned with production politics and the actors get short shrift. I really try very hard to make it so that doesn’t happen, because I’ll be the poorer for it.
“A good actor comes to serve — they’ll come with their ideas, their questions. … They’ll always, always best you, and that’s what they are there for. I try to keep my sets as small and as focused as possible. When the actors are on set, it’s the actors’ set. That was something that I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do before I worked with Stanley (Kubrick on ‘Eyes Wide Shut’), and it informed everything I did on ‘In the Bedroom’ and ‘Little Children.’ I knew that it was OK to work this way. It was OK for the crew not to know what we were going to do that day. It was a way of working that interested me, and it was my right to work that way.”
NEXT: “It’s an original script, but I really don’t know what it’s about yet because I haven’t finished writing it.”