After 2006’s The Painted Veil, director John Curran and actor Edward Norton have re-teamed for Stone, an intense drama about Jack Mabry (Robert De Niro), a retiring Detroit-area correctional officer reviewing the parole application of inmate Gerald “Stone” Creeson (Edward Norton).
During the process, Jack—a church-going family man with some buried issues in his marriage to Six Feet Under’s Francis Conroy—is seduced by Stone’s wife Lucetta (Milla Jovovich). Meanwhile, Stone himself begins to explore a fringe (and fictional) religion, perhaps in an attempt to sway the parole board.
I and other journalists sat down with both Norton and Curran last fall to talk about the morally and emotionally complex Stone. The following is a reprint of that interview.
John Curran: When this film came together it was early 2009, and there was a big debate going on in this country about ideals, often that were faith-based. There was a lot of anger, and to a segment of the American population–older, about to retire–it seemed to them everything they knew was crumbling.
I had this script about this guy in a working-class prison, and I felt in some way this script was something that I could use as a filmmaker to tap into that conversation. I felt it was something I could spend a year and a half on and find layer after layer after layer to explore, which is the sort of film I like. And Edward, he’s very similar – that’s the kind of stuff he gets really jazzed on—it’s not how can we blow up more things.
Edward Norton: We started talking about the film right after the economy tanked, and John said, “This is the moment to make this.”
Norton: John articulated to me the kinds of themes he was talking about–the idea that this is not just about a plot twist and characters manipulating each other. He talked about the basic idea, the arc of the film being about a person—Bob’s character–who seems solid, and a person—my character–who seems sort of unstable or marginal, and how they sort of shift positions. One goes off the rails, and one seems to come to a kind of peace from a state of high anxiety and desperation.
De Niro’s character has been married 40 years, goes to church every week, has a good job, has all the constructs of a quote-unquote “good life,” and yet there’s an enormous amount of inauthenticity in much of this for him. And by the end, my character Stone’s completely left behind this kind of materialistic or social notion of what constitutes a “good life” and in some ways what he’s really found is something much deeper. Stone’s saying, “If I’m in here in prison my issues are the same, if I’m out of here my issues are the same.”
On Casting Milla Jovovich
Curran: Stone’s wife Lucetta is kind of the fireworks of the film. Everyone is complex, but she has so many colors to her and has this constantly shifting shape. Once Bob and Edward were doing the film, I had no shortage of actresses who wanted to play that role, and some of them had some aspects of her but they didn’t have others.
I was really struggling with it, and it was sort of a fluke. I was just asking our casting person in general to tell me some of the women who’ve come in for auditions for other movies that just blew her away, and she named a couple of them and then said, “Oh but one time Milla Jovovich came in to do a reading for Chicago and it was just off the charts.”
Norton: We worked in this Michigan prison that had a facility that was shut down, so we were in this empty part, but the active part was right there next door. So I had access to interviewing a dozen guys who’d been in this parole process. I was impersonating on some levels the energy we saw in some of these guys who were so anxious about this process that they couldn’t stop talking, they were so wrapped up in the head spin of it.
I’d say every detail and probably 60% of the actual lines came from these two or three guys. One of the guys, Jay, he was poetically funny. He would say all these weird, coded phrases, like “scrubs” and “meatballs” and “short-timers” and calling his wife a “dime.” He talked so much–I just kept a list of everything he said and we would figure out how we could put it in.
Jay was very tough, very fierce and he was talking about how many internal aggressions he was having to deflect. I asked why, and he said, “I’m a vegetarian now.” And I said, “Oh you don’t eat meat for moral and ethical reasons?” And he said, “No man, I got two months left before the parole board–I can’t have no beefs.” So we also used that.
Curran: For the record, I cut that line out – I’m admitting it now. But Edward made me put it back in.
More from the cast of Stone at redbox:
- Edward Norton in Leaves of Grass on DVD and Blu-ray
- Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil: Afterlife on DVD and Blu-ray
- Robert DeNiro in Machete