Writer-director Noah Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding, his follow-up to his Oscar-nominated The Squid and the Whale, portrays the friendship -- and friction -- between sisters Margot (Nicole Kidman) and Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Pauline, mother to Ingrid (Flora Cross), is marrying her boyfriend Malcolm (Jack Black) -- and Margot comes to lend her support for the big day, bringing her son Claude (Zane Pais) along. But the sisters aren't really the best friends they claim to be, and the Pauline's coastal home soon seethes with judgments and resentments and secrets. And yet, according to Leigh, the tension on-screen wasn't on-set: "It was a pretty happy set, actually -- and also the scenes are exciting; it was exciting to have scenes with this much going on them. So you never went home bummed out; they were exciting and really good scenes, and the tension was alive. ..." Of course, Leigh also had the fairly unique experience of working with her husband as her writer-director. ... Leigh spoke with Cinematical in San Francisco about working with the people you love, what happened when the cameras were off, which of her movies she doesn't flip past when they come up as she channel-surfs and the sort of movie she considers a "crowd pleaser."
Cinematical: To start with a fairly obvious question, is it easier or harder when at the end of the day's shooting, you're going home with the director? Does that make your job as an actor easier, or more difficult?
Jennifer Jason Leigh: A lot easier -- because of our relationship, too, but it was a lot easier. Because not only can you talk about the day, but you can talk about the next days to come, and what you want from the scenes and what you're striving for -- and also you have the person you love most with you through it all, so you get to have this great creative collaboration doing something you love together and be together. For me, it made it easier. Also, if there was a scene I wanted a little extra rehearsal on, I could get it at home.
Cinematical: You had unlimited access to the writer.
JJL: Writer, director, yeah. "Could we work on that scene. Could I rehearse with you?"
Cinematical: What was it like working in these very intimate dramatic scenes with Jack Black -- who people don't automatically think of as an actor, who people think of more as a presence, or a comic actor. Did you do a lot of preparation, or did he just show up bringing his "A" game?
JJL: We did rehearse; we all rehearsed. Jack was Noah's first choice, and Jack's someone I've always wanted to work with, and I've known Jack a really long time, so I knew he could be great. I just think he's a wonderful actor, so ... he would always joke about having his "A" game on, and all that, but ... he's just so good. There was never a doubt in my mind. And I knew we'd have good chemistry, because we're friends, and I just enjoy him anyway. It's always nice to work with people you know and like, just because you already have that history - and it shows, in a way, and you can feel it on the screen a lot of the time, I think. He's a wonderful actor; everything you would hope he'd be, he is. He's warm, he's available; he's funny, he's smart as hell ... he's lovely.