Interview with Nanette Burstein director of ‘Going the Distance’

Nanette Burstein director of Going the Distance starring Drew Barrymore and Justin Long Chats with WIND am 560’s film critic Sarah Adamson

Backstage Notes: August 11, 2010 – The interview was in a beautiful suite in Trump Tower on a bright sunny day in Chicago. I was anxious to interview Nanette as she’s the first woman director I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing. A native of New York, we spoke about family and common friends before the interview as my sister is an actress and college professor of acting on the East Coast. Nanette’s lovely and could easily be a leading lady herself. The conversation flowed easily as she talked about her leading lady, America’s sweetheart: Drew Barrymore.

Nanette Burstein director of Going the Distance
Nanette Burstein director of “Going the Distance”
Drew Barrymore in Going the Distance
Drew Barrymore in “Going the Distance”

SA: I’m chatting this evening with Nanette Burstein. She’s the director of the romantic comedy, Going the Distance that will be in theatres August 27th. Nanette has been nominated for the Academy Award for the documentary film, On the Ropes.

SA: Hello Nanette!

NB: Hello!

SA: I’m just thrilled to be interviewing a female director.

NB: We’re rare.

SA: Yes, it is in these days and we’d like to see more of you. How did you happen to become involved in the film, Going the Distance?

NB: I had made several award winning documentaries that tended to not be hard news documentaries but more entertaining character pieces like a Michael Moore type of movie I guess you could say. I wanted to make a fiction film and studios had been sending me some scripts to read and I really, really responded to this script and I wanted to make it into a movie.

SA: Fantastic. Were Drew Barrymore and Justin Long involved with the film from the beginning?

NB: No, it was just me and then we offered the movie to them and they were really excited to do it.

SA: Could you tell us a synopsis of what the movie is about?

NB: The movie is about a couple who fall in love and because of their jobs and living on opposite ends of the country they try to manage a long distance relationship.

SA: You know, I have no idea if Drew and Justin were dating during the filming but I think our readers should know that, at one time, the stars of the film were boyfriend and girlfriend because you certainly see the chemistry between them. I thought it was really real and fantastic. Were they dating at the time?

NB: They were very happy together. They’re very private about their relationship whether they’re together or not together but they were very happy and seemed to be very much in love when we were making the movie. And you can really see it on screen. That is one of the things people really respond to in the movie is they have such great chemistry together, which is kind of essential when you’re making a good romantic comedy.

SA: Oh, I do too! Particularly, not only the love scenes but the scene when you can tell Justin and Drew are truly hurting not being with the one that they love and being so far away.

NB: Yeah, there is a lot of heart and reality to this movie but there is never the heart without the humor too so even though it gets really real you’re laughing all along the way.

SA: I laughed throughout the whole movie (laughs). I just loved it. I guess I just have a quirky sense of humor. I would imagine that directing someone like Drew Barrymore, who has been in front of the camera, I saw here when she was like 3 or 4 in ET (1982), would be fantastic in and of itself directing someone like this. I also loved her work in, “Grey Gardens.” Did she collaborate with you at all with this role?

NB: You know, I think Drew has been on sets for so many years and she respects the role of a director so she doesn’t overstep her boundaries in that way. But she has an understanding of the process so it’s very helpful because when you’re asking someone to do a different type of performance they understand why. They understand how you need choices, they understand how you’re pressed for time…there is just a level of wisdom that comes with her experience.

SA: Sure, I would imagine it would be really helpful to a filmmaker.

NB: It is very helpful. It’s a great asset to have. She started at 10 months even, she was in Altered States. So, before she could walk (laughs) and before she could talk she was on a movie screen!

SA: Well she certainly has developed as one of my favorite actresses to watch on screen.

NB: She’s got this incredible charm and she infuses it in every role. This is a movie where you’ve never seen Drew Barrymore play this role before. She’s tough, she’s funny, and she’s vulnerable. She will use the “f” word at times…she usually plays America’s sweetheart but even though it’s a different role she still has that great, “that’s Drew Barrymore and I love her.”

SA: What I loved about the film as well was the script. It’s so refreshing. It seems so real with lots of pop culture peppered throughout. It was just fantastic; it just comes out of nowhere – so great! Did you add much to the script as you were going along to set the rhythm or was that all originally in the script?

NB: We re-wrote the script a lot. Geoff (La Tulippe), who wrote the script, a very talented writer…we brought in two new writers to also work with us. We rehearsed for several weeks and we brought the writers in there and re-wrote based on improvisations. Then, when we shot the movie we’d always use the script but we’d improvise every scene so all the funny references and pop culture references also came from the improvisation.

SA: Hysterical, let me tell you! All the supporting characters were so well developed in the film and added so much to the comedy aspect of it, especially Christina Applegate – loved watching her and the roommates were so great. Could you talk about the supporting characters?

NB: Supporting characters often in a romantic comedy are often the Greek chorus and don’t have unique personality or humor. And in this film, it’s quite the opposite. They’re are hilarious and a big sources of the comedy. Christina Applegate plays Drew’s sister and she’s just so funny. She’s kind of the uptight disapproving sister and the relationship between her and Justin is quite humorous. She reminds me of the Leslie Mann character in Knocked Up (2007). Jason Sudeikis who is on “Saturday Night Live” quite a bit plays Justin’s close friend as well as Charlie Day whose first movie this is. So, if you are a fan of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” you will be seeing a lot of Charlie Day in this movie and you will be very happy because he’s a scene-stealer

SA: They are! I enjoyed it so much. I particularly enjoyed the music as well in the film. I love the roommate who plays the different music for the different moods and he’s always listening. I just love that scene where he’s like, “oh, you’re not okay with this?” She teases him.

NB: Yeah, that’s the scene where they end up getting together the first night. It’s a very quirky, funny scene.

SA: I thought the film was very true to the notion of a long distance relationship and the added stress of the job or the big job. My children are close to that age and I know how important that is in today’s environment. What did you draw from to project those concepts in the film…to make them so real and true?

NB: First of all, they’re both in industries that are very challenged, the newspaper industry and the music industry. My husband is a journalist and a lot of my good friends are so I understand how difficult and fragile that industry is. Just in today’s world and today’s economy it’s so hard. I drew from my own life. I’ve always found a hard balance between your career, your love life and having children. I think, as a woman, especially, it’s very hard to make that balance and you’re often asked to make different choices than men are. The world is changing and we’re still figuring it all out. So, I just drew from my own experience.

SA: Are you interested in directing another film that focuses on the male topic such as, “On the Ropes?”

NB: Yeah! For me, its not about gender its just about what interests me.

SA: Would you like to say anything more about, Going the Distance?

NB: Well, it’s interesting because I think people expect it’s your typical romantic comedy but it actually has a lot of humor in it. If you like movies like, There’s Something About Mary (1998) or Knocked Up (2007) I think you will really enjoy, Going the Distance.

SA: Great! Well, thank you so much for chatting with us. I want to tell everyone to go out and see this film. I highly recommend it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think it has something for everyone!

Sarah Adamson © August 11, 2010