Excerpts from A Roundtable Interview With Chris Cooper
Of “Married Life”
I have family connections here in Dallas.
My great-grandfather helped survey the original streets in
Outlook: This story is based on a book?
CC: Yes, and there were some different slants in the movie. We shot an ending, old age makeup, deathbed scene, and all that, which we wound up not using; it was just too much of a downer.
Outlook: I got the sense that at the end, the marriage had kind of gotten to the point where they’d been through the wars, and they had come to terms with each other, and to an acceptance of one another.
CC: And an appreciation.
Outlook: And that may be a fairly good basis on which a relationship could endure.
CC: Well, Harry made a terrible choice rather than confront his wife, and Richard, being his best friend, was not so honorable. But I think it’s fair to say that we’re all selfish at times in our relationships, and choose ourselves over our mates at different times.
Outlook: Did it feel strange to you to play a husband who’s so out of tune with his wife that he would not even be aware that she was carrying on with somebody else?
CC: Yeah. When I do my math, in 1949 (when the movie took place) my grandfather was in his 50’s. I thought about the relationship between my grandfather and grandmother, and my own parents. My Dad was a doctor. We never saw him for breakfast, he was gone on hospital rounds, then he’d go to the office. We’d be lucky to have dinner with him, and if we did, it would be or later. Then he’d do house calls, then evening rounds at the hospital. Now Mom and Dad loved each other. And I know Dad put Mom on a pedestal. But I also know that there were periods where Mom had just about had it. And Dad couldn’t understand it. He was such an innocent, naïve man, and so trusting in the relationship. My Mother could have had a number of lovers, and Dad would never have known.
Outlook: And it seemed to me that your character fell in love with sort of an idealized notion of love, rather than a person.
CC: In that scene where Harry’s wife confronts him, she says, “Love is sex,” and he’s stunned. He wants more than that. He wants affection. He wants romance. But it’s half his fault, too, that the marriage has gone flat. He hasn’t fought to make it interesting.
Harry was somewhat narcissistic to think that his wife would fall apart without him.
Outlook: And his friend was pretty narcissistic, also.
Outlook: What was it like working with Pierce Brosnan?
CC: Pretty delightful. The situation with these four people was so dear, and Ira, the Director, was pretty smart in setting up these one-on-one dinners with each other beforehand. And Pierce and I discovered that we had some pretty similar events in our lives. I think that time together was a big help when we actually started shooting the film.
Outlook: Did it feel funny to dress up in suit and tie all the time?
CC: Wardrobe did a great job of fitting me, and I was actually quite comfortable, even though the material was heavy, and it fit very differently from more modern clothes. I think it was Olivier who said that putting on the costume helped him get into character. I think I had some of that experience, as well. Besides, my Dad always drilled into my head the importance of dressing like a man. In the 60’s, when I was wearing sandals, he wouldn’t be seen in public with me. Even for a backyard barbecue, his idea of casual was dress slacks, shirt, and button sweater. But that period wardrobe also looked tremendous on Rachel McAdams, and she was so stunning you could just hear the whispers on the set, which made her attractiveness to both of the men much more convincing. She was just captivating.
Outlook: Sounds like you didn’t have to act very much at that point!
CC: She was almost intimidating! (laughs) She’s just a beautiful girl with a little bit of mystery about her, very mature, very contained, and it was a little scary.
Outlook: On the surface of it, Harry is a very immoral person, adultery, contemplating murder. But in his own mind, he’s trying to do the noble thing.
CC: Yeah, and I’ve had experiences in my own life where I’ve rationalized like that.
Outlook: Do you think of Harry as being someone who needed to idealize everyone around him?
CC: Yes, and in that sense Harry was very full of himself. But his sympathy for the grieving widow was translated by her into romantic attachment.
Outlook: I appreciate your time, and your devotion to your craft.
CC: Thank you. I take it seriously. I like to believe in what I’m doing 100%, then go home to Marianne.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace