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Jennifer Aniston on Sundance Drama ‘The Yellow Birds,’ Returning to TV and Tabloid Culture

Jennifer Aniston is no stranger to the Sundance Film Festival, having trekked to Park City for the premieres of 2002’s “The Good Girl” and 2006’s “Friends With Money.” This year, she plays a supporting role in the drama “The Yellow Birds,” as the mother of a young man (Tye Sheridan) who enlists in the Iraq War.

“It’s a poetic story,” says Aniston, who’s also an executive producer on the project, directed by Alexandre Moors, with a cast that includes Toni Collette and Alden Ehrenreich as another soldier. “It’s heartbreaking — these families every single day not knowing if their kids are going to come home.” Ahead of its Saturday premiere, Aniston spoke to Variety about the film, why she’s open to returning to TV, and what inspired her recent essay about tabloid culture.

How did you find this movie?
It came to me from Mark Canton and Courtney Solomon, who I did “Cake” with. While we were shooting “Cake,” they were in the process of getting the rights to the book. I read the script and it was absolutely gut-wrenching. It’s not normally where I gravitate toward a film like this. I fell in love with the whole idea of it. When they asked me to play one of the mothers, I said: “Of course.”

Did you meet with real mothers of war veterans for research? 
I spoke to Alex, read the script, and worked with this amazing woman who is an acting coach, named Nancy Banks. Just listening to interviews … endless interviews. I came out of this experience riddled with gratitude that we all need to have. When we’re not on the frontlines, we’re pretty removed by watching the news. And the extraordinary sacrifices these kids make. By the way, Alden and Tye, the two actors who play the soldiers, are just dazzling. Alden is just like watching a young Leonardo DiCaprio.

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There are so many buyers in the market now, from traditional distributors, to Netflix and Amazon. Do you have an idea of where you want this movie to go?
Anywhere would be a wonderful place. Netflix, Amazon, everything you’re seeing on television is fantastic. It’s almost like there’s not much a difference. We’ve been binge-watching “The Crown.”

But Netflix and Amazon release movies in theaters, too.
That’s true. It used to be thought of as not as respected if a movie goes day-and-date, but I think it’s fantastic. I’m always going to be a sucker for wanting to go to movie theaters. There’s something that makes me sad about that experience becoming less and less, because people are seeing everything right from their television screens. But at the end of the day, when it’s just as good — if not better — why not?

Would you be open to going back to TV?
Yes, I would. I’ve thought about it a lot. That’s where the work is. That’s where the quality is. At this point in my career, I want to be part of wonderful stories, exciting characters, and also just having a good time. When you’re in your 20s, going away from home was an adventur — meeting new people, seeing other parts of the country or world was so exciting. Now it’s really about wanting to stay closer to home and just enjoying your time. It goes really fast. The experience needs to be a good experience. I have no time for the yelling, angry directors, or bad behavior anymore.

Will you continue producing?
Oh, I love it. There’s something very exciting about being part of a project from the seed of it, and putting it together. And you just feel so proud of it on another level.

Your essay last summer about the toxicity of tabloid culture made headlines. Why did you decide to write it?
I got fed up. I was in a really raw, vulnerable place. I had just lost my mom, and I did it for myself originally as a therapeutic way to deal with the bullshit. I’ve always been advised not to respond, not to speak up, it’ll go away. I was rolling into the 15th year of these preposterous rumors about my fertility status, marital status, singlehood status. I was tired of being shamed for whether I have this or that. I’m perfectly happy where I am, and that needs to be honored and respected. I’ve worked hard for a lot of years to be reduced down to: “Is she or isn’t she?” I just felt, write it down, get it all out. That’s why the original draft, before I put it in the hands of my trusted editor, was 12 pages of me barking my head off at people. And then my partner [Justin Theroux] said, “You should really give this to someone.” I had this moment of — it’s time, and who cares how it’s received. I had no idea it would get the response that it did; I was thrilled with that. But sadly, people still buy into it. They are consumers of this trash and they eat it up.

You don’t think it’s made a difference?
A little bit. It’s definitely in people’s consciousness a lot more. But you’re always going to have the Piers Morgans of the world contradicting something that comes from the heart and saying, “You’re a hypocrite.”

And finally, there’s a women’s march happening at Sundance on the day after the inauguration, led by your friend Chelsea Handler.
Well, I’m all for that. Hell yeah. What everyone is really seeing right now is there’s a lot of fear out there like I’ve never seen in my life. I support all the women and men who are going to be marching. We have the unalienable right to do that. I hope it penetrates and everyone gets heard.

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