Date: Mon, 17 Jul 1995 07:35:55 -0400 From: John Gummer <email@example.com> To: Multiple recipients of list MSM-L <MSM-L@vm.temple.edu> Subject: Benny & Joon Press-Kit -- Pt1 I hope you find this interesting... Attached below, is the first of two pieces of text I've extracted from the UK 'Press-Kit' that accompanied the release of _Benny and Joon_ . This post contains background info on B&J, and interviews with the Cast and Filmmakers, in which Donna Roth sums up MSM's qualities excellently. Other comments are also worthy of discussion... John. BENNY & JOON Some people paint neatly inside the lines. Some people paint slightly outside the lines. And then there is Sam, who doesn't even see the lines. BENNY & JOON brings together three of today's most talented and popular young actors in a romance on the brink of reality. Johnny Depp, Mary Stuart Masterson and Aidan Quinn star in this charmingly offbeat love story that affirms that there is someone out there for everyone. Mary Stuart Masterson is Joon Pearl, a pretty and bright young woman who is quick-witted, artistic... and unbalanced. She lives with her brother Benny, played by Aidan Quinn, who, in his desire to protect her from the world, may lose her forever. Into the lives of Benny and Joon comes Sam, winningly portrayed by Johnny Depp, who adds another dimension to his repertoire of roles that are slightly to the left of centre. Whimsical and beguiling, Sam possesses a love of classic -- and not so classic -- movies and an uncanny ability to recreate the magic of his idols Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. If Sam marches to a different drummer, it is Joon who can follow the beat, and these two true originals find each other. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presents BENNY & JOON starring Johnny Depp, Mary Stuart Masterson and Aidan Quinn. The film was directed by Jeremiah Chechik with Susan Arnold and Donna Roth producing. The screenplay is by Barry Berman from a story by Barry Berman and Leslie McNeil. ABOUT THE PRODUCTION Screenwriter Barry Berman, a graduate of Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey's highly competitive Clown College in Venice, Florida, had toured the country in big shoes and bright make-up performing in their world- renowned circus. Between shows, he and his fellow clowns screened hours of classic comedy films, most notably those of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, which ultimately became the inspiration for Berman to create the character of Sam in BENNY & JOON. It was not until five years after leaving the Big Top, however, that Berman began writing the actual screenplay, developing the original story with Leslie McNeil, with whom he had collaborated on a previous project. Together, they honed the script for several years before its original characters and intricate narrative caught the eyes of first-time producers Susan Arnold and Donna Roth. Arnold and Roth knew instantly upon reading it that the script for BENNY & JOON would mark their inaugural project as producers. "In 1989, someone told us about a screenplay by Barry Berman, this young, relatively unknown screenwriter," Susan Arnold recalls. "The first time Donna and I read the script, we could both see that it was filled with jewels -- simultaneously funny, romantic and poignant. Both of us felt passionate enough about this project to get it made." Arnold, in particular, was especially struck with the compelling character of Joon Pearl. The producer has worked for several years with the Imagination Workshop, a California-based arts program that works with underprivileged and disenfranchised people, as well as psychiatric patients. "My experience with the workshop certainly peaked my desire to make a movie about someone who has had a little bit harder time in life than most of us," Arnold says. Berman remembers that the idea for the character of Joon was not actually born until he had written several drafts of the script. "Joon wasn't based on any person I knew firsthand, but her existence created an element of interdependence between the characters that enabled me to explore the general kinds of enmeshments that occur in just about all relationships. Her emotional problems didn't limit my range for Joon's activities. She could be totally lucid, just as easily as she could be slightly insane." In seeking a director, Arnold and Roth knew that they would need someone who could capture the humour found within this sensitive and often funny love story. They found him in Canadian-born director Jeremiah Chechik, whose career as an award winning commercial director has also been highlighted by the box office success "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." "Jeremiah passionately loved the script and, most importantly, the characters," Roth states. "Not only could he see the story's heart, but understand its humorous side as well." "In the most simple way," the director continues, "BENNY & JOON is a romance between two oddities who meet and fall in love. The story is universal because every human heart contains the potential for both pain and pleasure. The story has a fable quality to it, but it's also very believable." Chechik and the producers next set about filling the three very diverse, but equally pivotal roles of Benny, Joon and Sam. Johnny Depp, who had received critical acclaim in the title role in "Edward Scissorhands" as a character who is somewhat otherworldly and yet all too human, was cast as Sam. "When I first met with Johnny to discuss BENNY & JOON, I began to understand how much he had brought to the role of Edward Scissorhands," Chechik says. "He is so emotionally expressive, doing what seems to be so little. It was clear that he would bring a thoroughly original and exciting energy to the role of Sam." Donna Roth concurs, "There is something magical about Johnny, there is no doubt about it. The first time we met him, it was like meeting a blind date at the front door and discovering, 'my god, he is so wonderful.' Johnny exceeded all of our wildest expectations." Depp says he immediately reacted to the character and jumped at the opportunity to introduce Sam's Keatonesque humour to an entirely new generation of moviegoers. "I had such a great time rediscovering Keaton, Chaplin and Harold Lloyd," declares Depp. "Comedy, especially when it is so physical, is extremely demanding. I developed an even greater respect for those guys as I began to try to do what they had accomplished in such a seemingly effortless way." In addition to his comedic abilities, Chechik says that Sam's character had to also be charismatic enough to have a catalytic effect on others around him, most notably Benny and Joon. "Sam brings innocence and a sense of wonder into Benny and Joon's lives," the director explains. "While allowing Joon to realise that she can have her own relationships, even romance, and take responsibility for her life, he also frees Benny to live his own life." For the role of Joon Pearl, the filmmakers chose Mary Stuart Masterson to bring this multi-faceted character to life. "One of the things that shines through Joon," observes Donna Roth, "is that she is really smart, and Mary Stuart Masterson is witty, intelligent and a wonderful actress who we knew could portray all sides of this unique character." Chechik says, "I wanted Joon to be someone the audience could identify with, and be moved by, without viewing her as a victim or a tragic character." For her part, Masterson says she enjoyed the demands of putting together the jigsaw pieces of her role. "Joon is everything from a highly intelligent woman with a quick wit to a person with virtually no grasp on reality," she notes. "It was really revealing to play a character whose confidence is shaken by the confusion she lives with every day. My own insecurities came right to the surface as a result." "But this story is basically about love," continues Masterson. "There are circumstances that are universal in this story, such as learning how much you can love someone and still allow them to be free." The character of Benny had its own, albeit more subtle challenges for actor Aidan Quinn. "Aidan is a superb actor, who is able to convey, in the most real and believable ways, the very delicate shades of his character's emotions," Chechik comments. Quinn was struck by how BENNY & JOON operates on so many levels. "I thought the material was particularly interesting because it's such a multi-layered story. It's a love story -- a story about a family and the difficulties faced when one member has a mental illness." Finding an actress to play Ruthie, Benny's potential love interest, became the last piece of the main ensemble casting. Julianne Moore, who recently received critical acclaim in the hit film "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle," won the role. Rounding out the supporting cast are Oliver Platt as Eric, Benny's co-worker and best friend, and C.C.H. Pounder as Dr. Garvey, Joon's caring and understanding physician. Completing the foursome with Benny and Eric for their weekly poker game, played for the unusual stakes of household items and services instead of money, Dan Hedaya and Joe Grifasi were cast as Thomas and Mike. To prepare for their respective roles, the actors, especially Depp and Masterson, immersed themselves in research and training. In addition to screening hours of Keaton and Chaplin classics, Depp enlisted mime, magician and silent film buff Dan Kamin to serve as his coach and choreographer in recreating the comedy of these legends, so woven into the fabric of Sam's life. Kamin, who authored the book Charlie Chaplin's One Man Show, also served as a consultant on Richard Attenborough's biopic "Chaplin." "Since Sam's brand of comedy is physical rather than verbal, in much the same vein as his silent film heroes," Kamin says, "we concentrated on a style of movement. We started with magic tricks, using sleight of hand, and worked our way up to recreating Keaton's patented falls. The subtle movements are the hardest to capture, but Johnny did a marvellous job. He was really courageous and worked hard -- even at the small things." Mary Stuart Masterson approached her own role with a devotion marked by hours of research and preparation. She read a great deal of material and met with members of the Imagination Workshop, among others. Interestingly, the actress also took up painting for the film and, in fact, several of the paintings seen in Joon's studio were done by Masterson. During the last two weeks of pre-production, Chechik gathered his four principal actors to discuss and rehearse the pivotal scenes in the movie. "It was important for me to create an atmosphere where the actors didn't feel at all inhibited about experimenting with ideas and contributing to the process," the director explains. "At the outset, I established very specific parameters for the story and its characters, but then, as rehearsals progressed, it became a mutual journey of discovery. I think the fact that we worked with a relatively small cast and crew who got along so well also helped to create a level of intimacy so important for this kind of story. "We all needed that closeness for this film to succeed," Aidan Quinn offers, "to remember where we were emotionally in scenes shot weeks apart. And we all just became crazy about each other." Spokane, Washington was chosen by the production team as the setting for BENNY & JOON. The city afforded several backdrops for the film, from the lush Riverfront Park used for some of Sam's performance antics, to the airy suburbs, to the grittier downtown sites. A local just-abandoned warehouse served as a soundstage for interiors. Production designer Neil Spisak took great care in creating Benny and Joon's world, especially in collecting the colourful playthings, trinkets and antiques found in Joon's art studio. Once designed, it was constructed twice, once on the makeshift soundstage, and again as an addition to the real house located along the Spokane River. Despite their common music video and commercial backgrounds, Chechik and cinematographer John Schwartzman refrained from imposing the photography on the narrative. "I wanted the visuals to advance the emotional life of the story, but I didn't want them to dominate. I wanted the camera work to be beautiful, but naturalistic; to be poetic, but not to outshine the characters. Most importantly, I wanted the camera to give the actors a stage for their characters, not the reverse. It's the characters after all which give this surprising and complex movie its appeal." "These characters make you look around and recognise that there's something special, even magical, about everybody," says Donna Roth. "BENNY & JOON is really a story of hope," concludes Susan Arnold. "It proves that you don't need to be so-called 'normal' to have a full life, and it encourages you to believe that there's someone out there for everyone."