Mena Suvari was about to tuck into a light lunch of salmon and green beans when I dropped in on her at The Park City Marriot. She chin-nodded me and asked her publicist: "So, am I nibbling?" It looked like she needed the nourishment, and knowing how much a lunch hour means to most people (let alone a Hollywood starlet), I apologised for keeping her from it.
Still, she was very accommodating, telling me that she was quite content to eat her salmon in increments. She's sanguine and at the same time reserved, and I could see why horror helmer Marc Evans had cast her as the ethereal earth child opposite a chaotic Colin Firth in the gruesome thriller Trauma.
She was predictably effusive about working with Firth, and approving of the laidback mode of British filmmaking - "very calm, very relaxed," she told me - apparently a big departure from Hollywood and its time-is-money ethos. But when I asked whether Trauma had appealed to some previously unseen "darker side", she turned coy, shrugging her shoulders and giving me the cutesy flim-flam: "Who me? Really? I dunno..."
Welsh director Marc Evans was an altogether different story. He readily admitted to earning the nickname 'Dark Marc' for his fascination with the macabre. This is the man who brought you the slasher flick My Little Eye and the pitch black House Of America. With the London-based Trauma, he says he wanted to explore the psyche of those people who "sit on the tube" and "live in bedsits". It was also moulded by a long conversation he had with Colin Firth about revisiting the "man in the suit" genre, the kind of Hitchcock thriller that got "beneath the skin and scratched around" (see Vertigo).
"NOT YOUR AVERAGE NIHILIST"
On the surface, though, Marc doesn't come over like your average nihilist. He has an open and, dare I say it, sunny disposition, and I often felt that his brain ticked faster than his lips could move. The words spilled as if they were beyond his control and I could tell he was already thinking about the next thing. It was certainly an education, but the interview almost never happened. After my half hour with Mena, the publicist was taken aback when I asked for time with the director - as if we hadn't already had this conversation! "Oh, that's right. I forgot," she says. "I'm not used to people asking about the director. There's only you and another London film critic."
For those of you who've written in to ask, Trauma looks set to open in the UK on 27th February. "It's definitely not a summer movie," Marc told me with a wry smile. (You can read the interviews in full when the film does eventually open.)
At The Filmmaker Lodge that evening, I ran into another British horror nut, screenwriter Philip Haydin Arnold. I met Philip at The Village At The Lift party last Friday night, and as it happens, he was still hung over from a party he'd attended the night before. He proudly showed me the snapshots on his digital camera, most of which featured Paris Hilton in the background, languorously slumped over a different bloke in every shot. That Paris, eh? What a gal.
The cocktail receptions held nightly at the Lodge are a far more highbrow affair, with white wine consumed in modest quantity and nondescript jazz playing low so that you can hear yourself think - and be better enabled to waffle pretentiously about the little French art film you saw last night. Actually, Philip and I talked mostly about his horror script, The Chosen, and his plans to accost British director Sarah Gavron (who's helmed the upcoming This Little Life) at a party being held by Daily Variety. I also received an invite to the party, which honours the cream of new filmmaking talent, but I'd heard that 1200 people had RSVP'd for the event despite its being held at a venue that only holds 300 people. I decided to pass (even if Kevin Bacon is supposed to be making an appearance), because I don't really expect to get in and my fragile ego can't take the rejection.
Philip, who's lived in New York for over a decade, tells me I'm hopelessly infected with the misery that comes with living in London - but then I'm not the one writing scripts about teenagers getting decapitated. Having said that, I should add that Philip is quite the quipster and it's no surprise that he also has a comedy script in the making. Pickle D'Or, about the star-crossed lovers of rival pickle merchants, is being shepherded through development by Nick O'Hagan, who recently co-produced Young Adam. Philip tells me he also gave the script to Ewan McGregor who's been in the States for a few months shooting Stay, a thriller with Naomi Watts. After getting a full frontal gander at Mr McGregor in Young Adam, I'm optimistic that he'll see the humour in a film about pickled cucumbers. Time will tell...
And now to answer a couple of your questions... I've had a few emails, including one from Gary Mills, about Robert Redford and his reaction to the new Peter Biskind exposé Down And Dirty Pictures - a less than flattering portrait of indie kings Redford and Harvey Weinstein. Well, from his opening night speech, it seems Bob is taking it all on the chin, at least quite willing to crack a joke at his own expense (check out my first postcard). In particular, Gary asks whether it's been made an issue among festivalgoers, and the simple answer is: no. People here are generally concerned with one of three things:
a) Can I meet someone who'll help me get my film made?
b) Where can I drink a beer without getting arrested?
c) Can I get someone drunk enough to help me get my film made?
"COMPELLING AND COMIC PIECE OF DRAMA"
Finally, I was interested to see an email from Fiona Jameson, who tells me she's a fan of crime writer Walter Mosley - the man behind Denzel Washington thriller Devil In A Blue Dress. To answer your question Fiona, Mosley has been in town to teach some writing seminars at The Sundance Institute and to take part in a panel discussion. Fellow novelist Jane Smiley was also on the panel (her novels A Thousand Acres and The Secret Lives Of Dentists have both been adapted for the big screen) and what ensued was a hilarious, although very decorous, clash of temperaments. In not so many words, Mosley accused Smiley of being an overly romantic, flaky airhead, while Smiley implied that Mosley was a pompous braggart committed soley to the pursuit of fame. (Ouch.) In all honesty, it was the most compelling and comic piece of drama I've seen at the festival so far.
Check in with me tomorrow when I'll have the skinny on Jimi Mistry and his rose-tinted culture clash comedy Touch Of Pink.
Stella delivers her next Sundance postcard on Thursday
Stella's interviewing Bright Young Things director Stephen Fry this Friday. Got a question you want Stella to answer on your behalf? You can email her right here