How was working with Billy Bob Thornton?
“He’s really a great guy. You know, you can’t invent chemistry. You can’t ‘act’ chemistry. The camera doesn’t lie. You know what I mean? You can tell when they’re just faking it, but we really, really liked each other. We just were so connected from the moment we met. There was such an ease between us. It was strange because we kind of felt like we’d known each other for years and years. You know when you meet somebody like that once in a while?
The first scene that we did was when he’s dropping me off at the diner. He says, ‘You gonna buy me a cup of coffee?’ That’s the very first thing we did together and you can see like not only were we flirting with each other, but we matched.”
Had you met him prior to signing on to The Astronaut Farmer?
“I’d never met him. I was just like as soon as that day happened, I was like, ‘Oh, we’re going to be fine. This is going to be really a good movie.’”
Is he somebody you wanted to work with? Was he on your list?
“He was on my list big time. I was glad it was this kind of film. This part is more like me than anything I’ve ever played, and he says the same thing. It was a joy going to work. Like if a job could be easy, this one was. Because we just went to work and just played.”
Would you do another family film if the right script came along?
“Yes. Oh God, yeah. I love playing characters like her. I love the kind of mother she was. I love working with kids. I’m good at that. They were so sweet because we had to really be like their real parents, and their parents were making a movie. They were real kids, they weren’t pros. They’re the Polish brothers’ daughters.
I had been an art teacher at my son’s elementary school for a couple of years during those lean times and so I made my trailer - this is a movie they had a lot of money for, so we had these big trailers… I had all arts and crafts in my trailer. I had disposable cameras so they would go out and they would take pictures of things they thought were important. Then I’d develop the pictures and then they’d paint them and stuff. My trailer was not off limits. They could come and go as much as they wanted so that allowed us to form a bond. It helped them know I was safe and I was the lady that had the box of crayons.
I told them a lot of stories. We were on the set for a long time and it’s hard to keep them there, so I had these really long stories. I would say, ‘Chapter Four. They went into the house…’ I’d tell these adventure stories of little girls. Then they’d have to wait and we’d have to do a take. They’d be like, ‘Oh my God!’ They’d come back and sit right down and then I’d be like, ‘Chapter Five.’ I totally forgot about that until just now.
The family became quite real. When they did the scene where Billy Bob had to say goodbye to them, we’d been filming then for about a month so the girls were really into make-believe. They really understood when you did make-believe on the camera and when you didn’t. They really loved so Billy Bob that they felt like they were really saying goodbye to him and he was going into space. It got really emotional and I’m going, ‘Okay, they’re crying, oh my God.’ Nobody said, ‘Okay, now girls, you’ve got to cry now.’ It just happened. Especially Jasper, the older one, she got really emotional. She got really shaken up. She just had to sit with Billy Bob for a long time. And Max [Thieriot] was like their big brother.
Billy Bob and I had our kids there so it was like this big family affair. I wanted people to come and visit. It was just great. There was no weirdness on the set with Billy Bob, even though he’s so famous. It was okay to have your camera and family members could come in and say hi. He’s not at all standoffish like that.”
How was it to work with Mark and Michael Polish?
“All of this atmosphere that I’m talking about, really, it comes from the top down. The reason why all of this stuff was happening, too, is because they welcomed this. They wanted it to be a family experience because they had their families there. They kept it really relaxed on the set. Even if we’re running out of light it’s like there was no screaming and yelling. There was no drama. I think that’s what happens when you’re working with a really good director because they’re that confident that it’s going to be okay. ‘We’re going to get the shot. If we don’t, we’re going to do it tomorrow.’ The two of them are very, very confident men and they work really well together. They were both on the same page and really had the same vision of what they wanted this film to be.”