Todd Haynes

Far From Heaven

Interviewed by David Michael

Todd Haynes has always been associated with provocative filmmaking. His directorial debut came in 1991 with "Poison" which, despite its controversial nature, went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Haynes followed up this success with "Safe" in 1995 and "Velvet Goldmine" in 1998, further establishing himself as a talented director with a unique approach. He talks here about his latest film, the much-praised, Oscar-nominated "Far From Heaven".

"Far From Heaven" is obviously influenced by 50s Douglas Sirk films. What was your approach in tackling the sexuality and racial issues of the period?

Sirk has made reference to wishing he could do a story about a gay man at the time but wasn't able to in that period. So, I suppose I took my lead from that. Of course when Rock Hudson's sexuality became clear after his death, it lends a different reading to his wooden romantic performances in Sirk films.

At the time racial themes were being discussed, and Sirk's very complex and interesting "Imitation of Life" deals with interracial conflict in a really beautiful way. But I was interested to see how the woman's role in the middle of these two dually social crises could be the focus. Because our attention would naturally want to go to the more explosive and sensual themes. I wanted to have Cathy [Julianne Moore] as the oppressor of these themes.

Do you think this is the film that Douglas Sirk would have liked to have made, or is that just a film buff's dream?

It's a wonderful projection to make and an impossible one at the same time. When his book "Sirk on Sirk" was republished after Rock Hudson died, he was able to talk about Rock Hudson's sexuality. He talks about the struggle gay men had coming out, and that he wishes he could have made a film about it in the 50s. It's clearly a theme that influenced him intellectually, and it was something that he found himself in the middle of.

You wrote the role of Cathy Whitaker specifically for Julianne Moore. What do you think her qualities are?

Nobody else could have played this part. She is completely different in every film she has been in. But none of the roles she has played are Julianne Moore, the person, so each time she reconstructs a person from scratch. I don't think that's what many actors do; they rely on their innate personality and charm. In many ways she almost harkens back to actors from an earlier era. There is depth and levels to read - it's not all on the surface.

You've been criticised for not connecting with emotions in your films, but "Far From Heaven" does...

I'm really pleased to hear that people feel genuine emotion in this film, because it was definitely our goal. We wanted to embrace the style and not be condescending to what's often looked at as a more naive way of telling a story on film from that period. It's a very sad story. Sadly, it's a story that really could be told today in America.

How do you think it relates to today?

Basically it's about these people, who look amazing, sound amazing, and move like none of us do, but who are ultimately very fragile people. They don't tear down the walls of their society. They ultimately succumb to the pressures of their society, and in that way they're more familiar then a lot of film subjects are - they're really more like us.

How does it feel to be nominated for best original screenplay?

It's a strange experience. It's easier for me to concentrate on other people who have nominations, like Julianne. This whole perception with "Far From Heaven" is so unlike anything I had experienced in my other films, so the Oscar part is a surreal, and wonderful, honour.