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Down the Rabbit Hole

Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart in "Rabbit Hole"

Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart on playing grieving parents

Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire, Rabbit Hole is a drama about the grieving process and the point at which it comes to an end, for better or worse. Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart star as Becca and Howie, a privileged couple whose comfortable life hasn’t helped them get over the death of their young son eight months ago.

Wrapped until now in a mutual cocoon of misery, they start to pull away from each other as they want to follow different paths. Howie finds group therapy helpful and wants to have another child. Becca scorns the opinions of others, including her working-class mother (Dianne Wiest) who has also lost a son, but finds herself drawn to the teenager who was involved in her son’s death.

The film was directed by John Cameron Mitchell, but don’t expect anything shocking a la his previous movies (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shortbus). His work here is sedate and deferential to the screenplay, which was also written by playwright Lindsay-Abaire.

The stars and creators of Rabbit Hole recently spoke to the press after the premiere of the film at the Toronto Film Festival.

AV: [To David Lindsay-Abaire] Was there an autobiographical element to your play?

Lindsay-Abaire: When I was a student at Julliard, Marsha Norman was a teacher, and she said if you want to write a good play, write about the thing that scares you the most. When I was in my 20s I really didn’t know what that was. But then I became a father and around the time my son was four years old I heard two stories of friends of friends whose children died very suddenly. And as a relatively new dad it put a fear in me that I had never experienced before, and I understand fear in a profound way. It took all that time for me to figure out what the thing that most scared me was.

AV: [To John Cameron Mitchell] Why did you agree to direct this?

Mitchell: I read the screenplay that [Kidman and producing partner Per Saar] had developed and very rarely do you come across a perfectly structured screenplay, with all the years of experience that the play has behind it. I read it and I was in tears. It made me feel that I should drop everything I was doing and say to them, I really need to part of this and this is why. The conversation we had was about emotion and identification rather than style. I knew that directorially I wanted to be as invisible as possible—it was all about the performances. A lot of it was also about talking about some loss in my own life that the play brought up, but also in some ways healed just by reading it.

AV: [To Kidman and Eckhart] How did you go about playing the bereaved parents? Did you meet any parents who had been through similar experiences?

Kidman: I tried to go to a grief group, and they said no, you can’t come because the emotions are too raw and you can’t have somebody in the group that hasn’t been through exactly the same thing, which I totally respected. I find [the emotions] from within. I did read a bit but ultimately something like this has to come from someplace you don’t even know where it’s coming from. It needs to be coaxed out.

Eckhart: Yeah, it has to do with your imagination. The internet is a great tool because people post their video blogs as a cathartic way to deal with a loss. The internet is an excellent tool for actors because it doesn’t get any rawer than a video blog of a father grieving his son, or a child grieving their parents. And they’re doing it on a daily or weekly basis—some do it over the course of years. So you can go back and archive it and see how anniversaries or birthdays or a piece of clothing can affect them years later. It’s so raw, and then once you inundate yourself with that enough, it’s not hard to do what you need to come up with. With the words, director and the other actors it’s all right there.

I did attend one bereavement class and that was probably unethical, I would have to say, because you really feel like you’re taking advantage of people who are laying it all out there, no matter what kind of actor or sociopath you are you just feel like you’re a liar so I didn’t do that again.

Watch the trailer for Rabbit Hole

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