Lately, I’ve really understood in a really personal way how fear is the core emotion that creates every choice for us.
In what ways?
My mom has dementia and to watch as she shed part of her socialization… What we got back down to was this core of fear. Everything was about fear — to see how much fear is essential in who we are as animals is amazing. I grew up in a single parent home house so my mom is a huge part of my life, the most significant relationship in my life that will ever be. She is my work life, and that whole process from birth until the time that you say goodbye, I really understand from both sides, from a daughter’s side and also from having two children.
Has that impacted how you think about fear?
I do think parental fear is a thing, too, you know, wanting to protect your children, I think, that lives in our DNA. But I look at a film like Little Man Tate, which is the first film I directed and is a movie about a mother and a son, and that is a specific relationship. I would say that one of the aspects of a mother and son relationship that is so interesting to me is how romantic it is.
What do you mean?
There is something about raising somebody who will become one of the most powerful people in the universe. That’s what I thought Little Man Tate was about: raising a herald for the next generation, a prodigy, somebody who is the new messenger for the next generation. And when you raise a prodigy you are raising the man who was born of your female pain and your separation of yourself. He is an outcrop of that, you know? You’re raising them from infancy, and that awe in front of this child that you are raising in their differentness, and how different they are… It articulates itself through a certain kind of romanticism, and a kind of love that feels like partner love. And that’s a weird thing to say — except in these types of movies you see where that comes out.
Well, it’s not an uncommon trope… Look at Murmur of the Heart or Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.
Right! If you look at a film like Murmur of the Heart, or to go back to Little Man Tate, I think that they are different, and yes, we have fears about them and their psychology and where they are headed. But the mother-son relationship is a very different one. It’s very different from the kind of symbiosis you get between mother and daughter.
Would you say that symbiosis is engrained in your identity?
I think we are in an era of identity searching. So this idea that we have to attach to one identity over others… I don’t think we have to attach to one identity over others. I’m a mother, I’m a daughter, I was raised half in France and half in America and so I have two cultures: I like to ski, I like NFL, you know, just because I come from Los Angeles doesn’t mean that I don’t have an understanding of what it’s like to live in a small town. I would like us to become more varied and more diverse as a culture as opposed to becoming more mono-focused. That was the dream of Robert F. Kennedy, that all of the identities would come together and suddenly we’d be turning around and going, “What the hell, what do we care?” You know?
This is an interesting time in history where that outlook is concerned, especially with social media bringing us closer and closer together.
I do think it’s a very interesting time in our history. We have a level of consciousness that we have never seen before, a level that has been brought about by, like you said, technology and other things… There is an awareness about human relationships and behaviors. But there is also a level of unconsciousness in our world that is astounding, that is existing in the same era, in the same decade on the same street — and that’s crazy, that is going to lead to major struggles when those two levels of consciousness are being manipulated against each other.
So would you say that you have your doubts about how technology can influence the world?
Well, Facebook started a revolution in Tunisia, so you never know… But technology has no emotions, it’s not passionate and it doesn’t have an opinion, it’s just reflecting back what you asked it to do. That’s all it’s doing, it’s accomplishing what you desired. And our psychology, ethically, doesn’t understand what it’s asking these machines to do until it’s too late. I think there are a lot of downsides to it — and I think about this a lot.
I think about all the things where my life is not better because of technology, sure. But at the same time, the beauty of technology is… Somebody who is living in Alaska in a town of 25 people now understands that there is such a thing as LBGTQ or that there is a rape crisis hotline or that a lawyer from Arkansas can bring down the President of the United States — and that is no small thing. That was not available to us 10 years ago. People have a voice globally in a democratic way that has never been possible in the history of our world, and it’s not an accident that there is opportunity for people to come forward that have not had justice. That is the best thing that technology can have which is to bring light, and to bring social justice.
What are the upsides to technology for you personally?
Honestly I don’t think there are a lot of upsides for me with technology — mostly because I’m privileged. Privileged people living in urban places… Has technology made our lives that much better? I mean, I don’t think my life was that much worse when I had to manually roll down my car window. And I don’t think that having alerts on my phone every five minutes about the news has made my life better.
I guess it depends on your definition of better.
Exactly, I think that it’s made my life faster, it’s made the ability to succeed easier. But has that made my life better? Is it better now than it was in the eighties or seventies? I don’t think we are happier. Maybe because I’m 55, I really am asking these questions… I really want to do meaningful things! This is also the time that I really want to focus on directing. I think that I will act less and less. I’ve been doing it for 52 years. It’s a long time to do one thing and I feel like there are a lot of stories that I got out of my system that I don’t need to tell anymore. I don’t need to ever do The Accused again! (Laughs) That is never going to happen again! You hit these milestones as an actor, and then you say, “Now what? Now what do I have to say?”