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elephant_song_poster_285THE CATHERINE KEENER Q+A

Catherine Keener has starred in films from some of the greatest directors in the business. Yet, in her latest film ELEPHANT SONG, Keener is directed by the relatively unknown Charles Binamé and appears in a smaller supporting role. In the film, Keener plays Nurse Peterson, the mother figure for Xavier Dolan’s troubled Michael. The film premiered last September at the Toronto International Film Festival, where I was lucky enough to book some time with the two-time Academy Award nominated actress. I was warned beforehand that Keener had lost her voice, but this didn’t stop her from being extremely chatty and friendly. When I walked into the room, Keener was surrounded by empty cups of tea.

Catherine Keener: Sorry about my voice. Can you just make up shit for me to say?

Black Sheep Reviews: Sure. I’ll make you sound great.

CK: Well in that case, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

(Mutual laughter)

BSR: It’s really interesting to see you doing this Canadian film with a cast and crew that is entirely Canadian. How did you get involved?

CK: I had no idea that that was interesting at all prior to today. Is that sort of a weird thing? I just thought movies were movies and I love Canada, I work here all the time. I didn’t know about the way films are made under the government. I’d never done that. I’d shot here so many times, but it’s always been an American production. For me it was just another movie, except it was in Montreal and I was working with a fully Canadian group of people, which is kind of great. I don’t know the difference really. What’s the difference to you? Maybe I can comment on it.

Elephant Song/Melenny

BSR: When something is made in Canada by a Canadian filmmaker, and the government is putting money into it, there usually aren’t well-established American actors in the film.

CK: I love that.

BSR: I mean, MAPS TO THE STARS is a Canadian film, but they tried to disguise Toronto as Hollywood and only two of the stars are Canadian.

CK: Oh yeah. And that’s David Cronenberg who’s a very well known filmmaker. Did you see the movie? Did you like it?

BSR: I thought it was great.

CK: Julie’s a friend; I think she’s fabulous. I love her so much, so I’m dying to see it. I know we don’t have much time; I could talk about Julie for an hour. I didn’t know anything about Charles Binamé until I got the script and then I talked to him on the phone. He has an elegance to him that made me want to do the movie. How he talked about mental illness and the way he talked about children. He’s such a graceful man and I thought. I liked the idea of playing a nurse in the 60’s. I have a thing about nurses. I find them to be of an ilk that’s rare. People who actually pay to learn how to make people better for a long time. I didn’t even answer your question. But who fucking cares?

BSR: You actually answered my next question, so I can just cross another off the list. What was it like acting opposite Xavier Dolan? I have to imagine that it must have been interesting to be directed by one filmmaker while acting with another filmmaker.


CK: He’s great. You know, Charles ran that set and Xavier knew that. That’s what I loved about [Dolan]. He’s on fire all the time. Xavier and I would play music for each other. We were in very close quarters. We shot in an actual hospital that’s partially still functioning for mental patients. So we just used the empty rooms instead of trailers. Xavier was in my room a lot just writing or hanging out in the green room. It was an open, easy set with really no egos, and that’s because Charles doesn’t have one. If the director who is so talented doesn’t have one, then the rest of us better fucking follow form.

BSR: My favourite collaboration of yours is with Charlie Kaufman, who I adore. I think he’s brilliant and was really upset that the TV series he made isn’t being released and his last film he made couldn’t get financed. People are definitely missing the brilliance there.

CK: It’s crazy. This world should be seeing all of Charlie all the time. I can’t even say why, because I know these things. I’ve seen them, I’ve been in them, I’ve read everything. It’s too fucking ridiculous. We’d be having another conversation it is was Charlie. There’s no one like him. I can’t say anymore except that he’s a fucking genius and one of the nicest people I know and a really close friend of mine. I cannot believe that this world can go a year with something from Charlie. How can anyone stand it, not having something from him when they could?

Keener rose as the interview came to an end, and to my surprise asked if she could hug me, claimed that she “liked my energy”. I gladly obliged.

ELEPHANT SONG is now playing.

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