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Thomas Haden Church Talks About "Sideways"

The Meaning of "Sideways" and Alexander Payne Films


Paul Giamatti Thomas Haden Church

Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church in "Sideways"

© Fox Searchlight
We haven't seen much of Thomas Haden Church in movies or on TV recently. According to Haden Church the explanation is simple: he's been busy behind the camera rather than in front of it for the past year or so.

Thomas Haden Church moved away from the Hollywood scene three years ago to a ranch in Texas and stays busy writing, directing, and working his land. However the script for "Sideways," combined with the opportunity to work with writer/director Alexander Payne, proved too tempting to pass up.

In "Sideways," Thomas Haden Church plays Jack, a womanizer who is about to be married. Best friend/wine lover Miles (Paul Giamatti) takes his buddy on a tour of the wine country as a last hurrah before Jack ties the knot. The two buddies soon find themselves caught in a heady mix of wine and woman, with Jack's upcoming nuptials fast approaching.


What's the title of this movie mean to you?
The title of the movie is open to interpretation. We talked about it often. You go through a door sideways. Or the little roads that go off to the wineries in the Santa Ynez valley are sideways of the 101. But it’s also these little portals that open up, and the experience. These guys are at such a crossroads in their lives. Their lives have been largely defined by failure and you would think the prospect of marriage, which is supposed to be bountiful and hopeful, it’s just really another kind of tangential thing in his life. I mean, he’s so kind of desultory about it even at the beginning. Whenever Miles comes, he can’t wait to get away from it. One week away from being married and he can’t wait to get away from his new in-laws and his fiancée. And there’s actually some stuff that we shot that was cut out of the movie, these very antagonistic phone calls with his fiancée that Alexander [Payne] took out of the movie.

We debated it early on. I never felt the necessity for it because I think you get a sense of that antagonistic [feeling] between [them]. Like the very first moment she’s like, “We want you to try the cake,” and Jack doesn’t want to try the cake. He wants to get on the road. And whenever they’re backing out, he’s sugary sweet to them saying goodbye and then immediately whirls on Jack and is kind of attacking Jack. That’s the dynamic that exists in his engagement.

How difficult was it for you to tap into that delusional sense of self-justification?
Difficult because my value system couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to the characters. I believe in singularity in relationships because you’ve got to have trust on both sides. Although, having been a guy that has existed in that world… I’ve lived in Texas exclusively, but I certainly had my run of years in LA and success in television and some in movies. Just being plugged into the industry and seeing how fast and loose people play it, in terms of romance, it’s almost like a parallel universe. And the rest of the world, unfortunately, sees it like a benchmark or a template of some sort. Especially like the whole J-Lo and Ben Affleck thing. You know, where they’re just so destiny bound? They’re giving each other multi-million dollar gifts. And then it’s over and she’s pregnant with some other guy! So it’s like the justification sort of exists already, by virtue of the environment he lives in.

What’s one of the things that makes Alexander Payne’s movies so interesting?
Alexander always has this kind of ‘beef for human’-kind of tendril that goes through his movies. We comment on it in the movie when we’re walking away from the golf course and [Paul] says, “We’re all just pasture animals waiting to be slaughtered.” Alexander sees everything as just a struggle against the inevitable, which is death. And however lonely or rote or insignificant – it’s like everything that you dream that it might be and you absolutely campaign and challenge it the whole way. It’s completely what “About Schmidt” was about and it is absolutely what this movie is about. It even to some extent is what “Election” is about. This guy that’s so middle-aged and middle American and middle of the road and he pinpoints this senior and she’s where he makes his stand against inhumanity. And he fails. He gets his ass kicked by an 18 year-old girl.

Are you a wine drinker?
No. I mean, like many people I had a brief vocational fling at waiting tables in college. You kind of have to try to learn something about it to knowledgably serve it or make recommendations about it. But no, I’m really not. Last summer when we were preparing for the movie, I actually kind of wanted to stay fairly uninformed about it. As we went through the process that we do in the movie, I wanted to be a little wide-eyed. It’s a complete new experience for him and one that he’s willing to embrace because it serves the larger purpose, which is to hopefully pick up girls with this pseudo-intellectual lexicon of wine aficionados.

PAGE 2: Thomas Haden Church on Working with Paul Giamatti and a Love Scene with the Director's Wife

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