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Inside 'Heights' with Chris Terrio

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Chris Terrio on Casting Rufus Wainwright: “I’d known his music for awhile and I’d always sort of appreciated his lyrical genius and his way with words. The character of Jeremy really wasn’t anything. It was just a composite of a few plot enablers. And then I was flipping through The New York Times 'Arts' section and there was an article, it was related to Rufus’ album “Want One,” and there was an article that said something… It had a big picture of Rufus and it said something like, ‘Rufus Wainwright emerges from gay hell.’ It was about his battles with addictions and some other things. I thought, ‘This is perfect.’ Rufus is perfectly credible as this person who’s been one of Benjamin’s exes and who is sort of slightly world-weary and wise at the ripe old age of 28, or whatever Rufus was.

Immediately the character of Jeremy started to be clear in my mind, that it was this kind of character and that it hopefully would be Rufus. Then we had to track him down. He’s on tour a lot and he agreed to meet me for coffee and he said yes.”

Chris Terrio on Being a First-Time Feature Film Director: “It was intimidating in the first meeting with Glenn. I had met Glenn on the set of a ‘Behind the Scenes,’ which is how kind of I knew her. I was doing camera for ‘Behind the Scenes’ on a movie called ‘Le Divorce,’ a Merchant/Ivory movie. Being the only English speakers on the set, we were drawn together a lot of the time. So that’s how I first met her.

Once she got the script which, by the way, had been molded around her… Once I thought of Glenn, I deliberately wanted to infuse the character with just some of her sense of humor and her wit and things like that. But once she got the script, she wanted to have lunch and meet me. After I spent three days with the Zagat Guide trying to figure out where we could go… I mean, where do you take Glenn Close for lunch? I don’t know (laughing). Eventually I settled – I don’t know why – on this Mafia-like scary Italian restaurant downtown. And I can remember this lunch that we had and I was terrified. I can remember that at one point I excused myself to go to the bathroom and I nearly hyperventilated in the bathroom (laughing). I’ve never told Glenn this… But anyway, we had lunch and I had no idea how it went. She left and thanked me and then a few days later she called and wanted to meet me for a drink. And I thought, ‘Humph, I made it to the callback. I passed the first audition.’ So that was terrifying.

Then once we actually got to work, once we got into rehearsal and got onto the set, I wasn’t scared at all because Glenn is… I mean, she comes from the theater and there’s no sense of, ‘Miss Close will now descend from her trailer.’ She rolls up her sleeves and jumps in there and works just like everybody else. Once we got going I wasn’t intimidated.

As far as the supporting actors go, George Segal was a blast. I mean, some of my favorite days on set were with the most venerable actors like Michael Murphy and George Segal. They just had us all cracking up all day. Isabella Rossellini was just a pleasure. She’s such a gentle soul. She’s not a diva in the least bit. In fact, she said to me at the end of the day that she was relieved that I wasn’t scary because she thinks so many directors are scary. (Laughing) David Lynch must have traumatized her. Luckily I’m not a genius like David Lynch so I’m not scary in that sense (laughing).”

Why People Connect with “Heights: “I think it’s because it’s about people who are, yeah, in a sense larger than life. They live lives that are certainly more fabulous than my life and they’re more wealthy than I am and they make the right jokes at the right time, which I don’t. So yeah, they’re kind of an interesting crowd. But at heart once you strip away all the facades and masks and everything, they’re just sort of regular people who are struggling to make the right decisions.

I think everybody in this film has good intentions. Everybody’s trying to do the right thing. But the film is about how hard it is to do the right thing and how hard it is to tell the truth, and how hard it is to kind of make a relationship work. I think that that, hopefully, is what’s at the heart of the film. It certainly doesn’t hurt that I think we have Glenn Close in one of her best roles in a while, who is such a force of nature and really grabs the screen. But she does that without overpowering the younger generation of actors - Elizabeth Banks, James Marsden and Jesse Bradford - who not only hold their own but in fact make the Diana character more interesting by the way that they challenge her. So hopefully all these things can contribute to making it 93 minutes reasonably well spent in the theater.”

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