On the Road with Little Miss Sunshine
If you think your family is dysfunctional, just wait until you meet the Hoovers in Fox Searchlight Pictures’ new comedy, Little Miss Sunshine.
Frank (Steve Carrell) is a gay Proust scholar who is suicidal after his gay lover leaves him and Sheryl (Toni Collette) is Frank’s sister who allows him to stay with her after his latest suicide attempt. She is married to Richard (Greg Kinnear) who is a hopeless motivational speaker and is relentless about getting people to follow his 9-step program to success. Alan Arkan is the fouled-mouth heroine snorting Grandpa. Dwayne (Paul Dano) is the sibling who hates everyone in the family and hasn’t talked in nine months and Olive (Abigail Breslin) is a seven-year-old wannabe beauty queen.
The family may not sound like they have it together, and in many ways they don’t, but when Olive gets invited to compete in the lucrative “Little Miss Sunshine” pageant in California, everyone rallies behind her and takes a road trip like you’ve never seen.
ComingSoon.net sat down with Collette and Kinnear recently in Los Angeles to talk about their crazy characters.
ComingSoon.net: Is your character a Desperate Housewife?
Toni Collette: No, I think that’s a very limited term. I think all the characters in this movie are really beautiful and complex and real. I think Sheryl is the glue that holds this family together and she would die for any member of her family. She encourages them to be who they are instead of like her husband who is putting pressure on everyone to be a winner and to be something that is unattainable, which is similar to what society does to us.
CS:. How would you describe the family? Dysfunctional, happy, healthy, abnormal.
Collette: I think all of the above. I think life is complicated and people just want to categorize everything and put labels on everything. I think life is too abstruse for that and I think this film somehow actually suggests that in a kind of real way. They go through many different moments and they are constantly changing. The journey that they go on is physically and metaphorically full of so many leaps and changes and abrupt turns and epiphany. I think it’s really healthy to understand that it’s okay to be so chaotic.
CS: Can you describe where Sheryl is coming from because there are references in the film to her previous marriage?
Collette: This is her second marriage and Dwayne is her child from that first marriage. She’s fighting for them to all be happy I guess. It’s that simple. It’s funny, the more she tries to control and nurture that idea the less it really happens. But, once they get in the car and really encounter the chaos and start to accept and see each other more clearly it kind of happens naturally.
CS: Is she an enabler?
Collette: I just see her as being really selfless and incredibly supportive and patient. She strikes me as the type of person who has given up a lot. She seems like she’s full of potential and really hasn’t realized that because she’s given up so much of herself to others.
CS: Can you talk about the scenes where you’re pushing the van? It was funny.
Collette: Really? There was a group of us doing it so it wasn’t that hard. I wasn’t doing it myself.
CS: It starts off awkward, but by the end you guys are so accustomed to it.
Collette: I guess it’s like the repeated gag. It obviously could have been dangerous, but it was all very well rehearsed and we had a safety person there. I really like watching how everyone in their different characters approaches it. Greg isn’t running. He’s driving. Cop out. Steve ran and little Abby and Dwayne trying to maintain his cool quality. When you see them do that you seem the in almost like a moment of freedom. All they’ve been wanting to do is connect and at the end they’re all connecting, but they’re also feeling really comfortable and really free within themselves. When you see them jumping in the van for the last time it’s like they’re isolated and you can see them as who they are or something. It was quite beautiful.
CS: What was it like working with Paul [Dano] who couldn’t talk for the first half of the movie?
Collette: He’s a very quite guy anyway and once he started talking you couldn’t shut him up. They’re both incredibly talented and lovely people and I think the entire cast all felt so lucky to be working on something like this. We all got along really well and had great respect for each other and appreciated each other’s work. Abby, I forgot she was a kid actually because we were all in it together. I mean, obviously I do know she’s a kid because she’s half my size, but she’s incredibly professional and so good at what she does. I just think when it comes to acting it’s not something you can learn. To look at someone like her who just does it you kind of realize it’s just an innate thing. You either kind of have it or you don’t. Paul is such a smart. I was actually concerned because he’s actually 21 and I’m 33 and thought how could he possibly play my f**king child? But, luckily he looked really young on screen and we hung out quite a bit actually. We both really love music and went to a couple of concerts together and just got along really well. He’s just a sweet, smart young man and it was really special. I think the story is special, but the group, like in the wrong hands, it could have become something else. I think Jon [Dayton] and Val [Faris] collated a group of people who got it in the same way that they did.
CS: What are the nine steps?
Greg Kinnear: The nine steps? I don’t even know. I slowly weaned myself off them. I don’t know. I think Jon and Val, because they were such detail freaks in making the movie, actually did provide me with a list of nine steps. So somewhere there is a nine step list, but I can’t tell you exactly what it is. “Refuse to lose. Just say no –” I don’t even remember. It’ll all be in my upcoming DVD, the Greg Kinnear DVD.
CS: So is this role more challenging than other ones?
Kinnear: Yeah, they’re all different. There was a lot of cool stuff about Richard I felt. Like he was a failing motivational speaker. It’s a kind of interesting dichotomy. His methodology of telling people to never give up is probably working against him given the fact that he’s probably at the point where he should entertaining other ideas for a book. And just like his spirit — I like that he, the movie really doesn’t get cynical. He’s very high on “we can do this and we can make this happen” and yet the whole universe is collapsing around him, and I just like that spirit very much. You know the only hard part about it was the driving. I did all the driving in the movie. I should get a frickin’ award for that because first of all, everybody’s life was in my hands, including a nine-year-old beautiful girl’s. The guy would just say, “Okay, we think she can go about 7 miles an hour.” And I’d go, “What? What?” “Action!” [accelerating car sounds] And I’d be looking at her, and then she’d go, “I can’t reach it! I can’t reach it!” I wouldn’t know — well, is that the line from the frickin’ movie or is she telling me she can’t reach it? So it was absolute unorchestrated chaos every single time, not to mention when we shot out on these freeways. We didn’t have the money to close the freeway down, so there’s a great chance if you live in Southern California you’ll be in our movie. I was going like 50 miles an hour in this ’71 VW van that doesn’t have side air bags. Basically you’d wait for this huge camera truck to come whizzing in front of us with the camera. “Okay, go!” I mean, it was insanity. It’s the most dangerous movie I’ve ever made. Don’t listen to Paramount and their “Mission: Impossible” franchise. It’s a joke.
CS: More dangerous than Dick Vermeil in “Invincible”?
Kinnear: Well, yeah. If I had played the Mark Wahlberg role in that movie, then I’d have to start weighing which was more dangerous because I watched him firsthand take a few beatings. No, the only dangerous thing about Dick Vermeil was wearing those green polyester pants and getting hair extensions. God help me. Yeah, that was the danger there, but it was okay.
CS: How would you describe the Hoover family?
Kinnear: I think that they’re very functional actually. This is a family that with everything going wrong manages to get themselves to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant and get enrolled and make it through. So they’re very functional. They’re just a family. You don’t get to pick your family; you’re assigned a seat at the table. And I just love the characters. Michael Arndt, who wrote the script, did a wonderful job in brewing up six very different people. When I first read the script, I didn’t know how funny it was. I mean, of course it’s funny, but really I was more intrigued by the sort of tragedy of Richard and the family. It was like, oh God, I felt like, “This poor son of a b*tch.” And of course he finds a way to redeem certain parts of his persona. When I first saw the movie, I had just watched the ice cream sequence where I’m telling my daughter that she shouldn’t eat ice cream. I was watching and going, “Okay, I’m just never working in movies ever again. I mean, no one is ever going to be able separate this guy from me again.” Fortunately, I do think he manages to work himself out of the rabbit hole a little bit. There was a while when I was like, “Oh my God, I hate this man so very much.” It’s pretty tough. People get very uncomfortable with that. It’s funny the audience, they don’t know whether to — it’s funny the look on people’s faces. They don’t know whether to laugh or smile.
CS: What was your overall impression when you first saw the completed movie?
Kinnear: Well I saw it by myself. I saw it in a house by myself. Jon and Val were there and a dog. It’s a terrible way to watch a movie, and I thought that it was funny. I thought that it actually had captured what we talked about, and I thought that there was a real journey there and that I believed all the characters. I loved all the characters that I was around and that Richard was. I felt like, “Okay, well I don’t know how funny it is or how much people respond to that.” I thought it was funny and laughed in places, but didn’t know how it would do with an audience. But I believed everybody. I felt really happy that it wasn’t trying to work for laughs. It’s funny as a kind of secondary thing.
Little Miss Sunshine opens in New York and Los Angeles today and will expand wider throughout August.