I was giddy when I first heard about Away We Go, director Sam Mendes's quirky little film starring Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski. The movie's sweet trailer only increased my interest, so imagine my excitement upon getting the opportunity to interview Sam, Maya, and John. I sat down with the Oscar-winning director, SNL alum, and The Office star (on whom I admittedly have a bit of a crush) in San Francisco to chat about the film, which is already open in limited release.
The movie follows Burt (Krasinski) and Verona (Rudolph) as they travel across America in search of the perfect place to raise their unborn child. We journey with them as they visit different friends and family, picking up a few laughs and a lot of life lessons along the way. The trio had plenty to say about why they fell in love with the script, breaking out of TV roles, and lots more. Here are some highlights:
On Burt and Verona's relationship in the movie:
John: The thing I responded to most about the relationship is how perfect it was. And by that I mean both characters are dealing with the same world, the same cynical world that I think that we're all living through today. Especially for a time like now, the fact that you've heard the whole "love will conquer all" thing before but now you see it put into play in a real way, and not in a Romeo and Juliet way . . . I think that when you don't have a job and you're about to have a kid, all these real problems need real people and they need real best friends and they need real relationships. And that’s what I think I responded to most, it’s the relationship that I think, for the most part, most people have always wanted. . . . And that's what I thought was so great about the script, is not only did they show that it’s not unattainable, but it’s a lot simpler than we think.
There's more where that came from, so just
Maya: I fell in love with Burt and Verona right away . . . I feel like they exist in this world because of each other. I loved how honest their relationship was in terms of how honest their love was that it wasn't trying to be some idea of romantic film love. That it was a real love that was bumpy, imperfect and weird, and it had stipulations about marriage and the baby was on its way and they weren't expecting it . . . I loved being a part of that, of the two of them on their own and then it branches out into them out in the world, and how you see them cope in the world, too.
On breaking free from their TV personas:
Maya: Well, luckily my television persona was a crazy person, so I don't know if anyone expected what was coming next. I’ve learned and I’ve seen this a lot with people who I’ve worked with on Saturday Night Live, that there really is an expectation of you to be that in everything that you do. And as wonderful as my relationship is with Saturday Night Live, as a human being and as an actor, there's even more inside my artillery and more inside me as a thinking, feeling human. It's really nice to be able to do other things, too. It’s never really turning my back on the world of comedy, or sketch comedy, or wigs for that matter, but just the opportunity to be able to do something else that’s closer to a real person like me, or a real girl, or a relationship.
John: I'd say that I'm in a rare position that The Office isn't really something you want to break out from. It's the best thing going. On top of that, I'm also really lucky to play a character on the show that I think is able to be funny sometimes but is probably the more realistic character of the bunch . . . I love comedy and I had never really gotten the opportunity to do something super dramatic but I had tried it a bit on the show, so it was really up to Sam to take a chance and say "I want to go further with what I think you have to offer" and so I was really lucky to have that happen.
On the film's message:
John: In a more universal sense, it's really about that ability to find yourself, in a society that’s constantly trying to conform to whatever is going on now, or whatever's new, or whatever you parents did, or you need to make this amount of money to have a child. All those different things, even our characters are forced to think about where to live, but also bring in how are they gonna have a job, how are they gonna have all these other things that they do have to conform to, and how much of it will they conform to, and how much of it will be completely their own. Whether you bring in any political sense to it, it’s the same story at the end of the day, it’s "where do you belong?"
On how being a husband and father impacted the film:
Sam: One of the first things I thought about it when I first read it, that was kind of the magic about it, was that Dave [Eggers] and Vendela [Vida] had written it when they were pregnant with their first child. It had some of that magical period in it, where you’re on the precipice of a whole new life . . . I also recognized that there's a satirical line running through the whole movie about styles of parenting. And when you're a parent, you do watch other people’s parenting with different eyes . . . But you're also aware, as I think Burt and Verona are, that you are just as flawed as everyone else, you just have a different set of flaws. You're just a little less crazy than the really crazy ones. But there's no such thing as a perfect parent. You’re learning all the time, every day.
On making the transition from directing Revolutionary Road right into Away We Go:
Sam: It was actually really easy, because what I needed at the end of Revolutionary Road was a couple of laughs. It was a pleasure because, in a weird way, I’m not sure I would have been so certain I wanted to do Away We Go had I not just made Revolutionary Road. To state the obvious, they’re both movies about a couple that want to escape, but one of them can’t and that’s Revolutionary Road, and this one can . . . I'm not a bleak person by nature. I don’t believe that all men and women are destined to be apart and nothing can never work, and we're basically born to tragedy . . . So I felt the need to get out there and make a movie that was closer to the way I was thinking about the world I live in now, and this is it. I just happened to pick up that screenplay at the right time. And so for me it was just a pleasure from beginning to end.