In "The Notebook," Garner plays the husband of a victim of Alzheimer's who doggedly tries to jar his wife's memory by reading her the story of their life together. In this interview, Garner discusses working opposite Gena Rowlands in emotionally demanding scenes and reflects back on his lengthy acting career.
INTERVIEW WITH JAMES GARNER:
Have you had any personal experience dealing with someone who suffers from Alzheimers?
I had an Aunt Emma. She was funny. She couldn't remember me or my brothers or her sisters or anyone. But she could remember everything that happened to her when she was 9, 10, 11 years old. I used to love to hear her tell the stories of that.
Did you have to walk a fine line with your characters motivations for helping her?
Well, there's genuine motivation. This man loved her passionately. I mean, if you looked at what Ryan [Gosling] and Rachel [McAdams] did during the film, you knew that this was dedication. His whole life was for the love of her. So when you get to me and Gena [Rowlands], he's still in that deep love for her.
That speaks a lot to your performance.
That's thanks to the writers because the writers did an absolutely wonderful job of treading that line of Alzheimers, of getting maudlin. You can go a lot of ways with that. I thought that they treated it beautifully.
How interesting was it to work opposite Gena Rowlands with her son directing the film?
I've told this story twice today because it's funny. The first scene that I did was with Gena and she's in the house. She's going to come out and I'm sitting on the porch in a chair or something. And I hear Nick [Cassavetes] say, Okay, mom. Action. Well, I ruined that take because I just broke up. That was so funny. That tickled me to death. But he showed his mother great respect. He was gentle with her and worked with her. What I loved about it is that she listened to him. Here's a professional actress who's one of the best ever, and she's listening to her son tell her about things. I really admired that in both of them.
I fell in love with Gena. I'm sorry she's not here, but she had an accident and broke her shoulder. It's been about four or five weeks, but she broke it in two places. She was doing a film and slipped on a stairway, but she'll be alright. It's painful though. I broke my shoulder during Space Cowboys.
How did you get worked up to that emotional state when you were trying to get through to Genas character?
I listen to Gena. I watched her. I went with it. I told someone before [that] I didn't know what I was going to do. I read that and went, What am I going to do here? I couldn't figure it out. So I said, Well, lets just see what Gena does. Sure enough, she just tore my heart out. I think that that's the first take that you saw in the film. I'm not sure. But there was no technique or any of that to it. I just watched the actress and reacted. That's what I do. I'm not an actor. I'm a reactor.
Did Nick discuss the story with you, and talk about his parents?
Well, I think that Nick knew that I understood the story and we never really had to get into depth about any of that because I think that he had the respect that I understood it. Nick though, he's a very special director. He puts his heart and soul into it. He laughs about it, but he's into it heavy. If you look at it, this is cast as well as any picture you've seen in a long time. Every part was perfect. That's hard to do. It reminded me of the old English films. You see those old English films and the milkman would come up and have three lines, but he was perfect. This was the same way. Everyone was perfect for the role.