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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Kerry Washington and Patrick Wilson on ‘Lakeview Terrace’

Yesterday I posted a piece on Samuel L. Jackson discussing Lakeview Terrace, which opened in the U.K. yesterday, and arrives on DVD in the U.S. on January 27, 2009. (My review is here.) It’s the story of a black cop, played by Samuel L. Jackson, who menaces and harrasses his new neighbors, a mixed-race couple played by Kerry Washington and Patrick Wilson.

Just before the film opened in the U.S. a few months ago, I attended roundtable interviews with the film’s three stars; roundtables are where a group of journalists literally sit around a table with the talent and talk about whatever the project of the moment is. Roundtables aren’t as focused as one-on-one interviews can be, because everyone at the table has their own agenda and the questions for the talent tend to be all over the place, but they’re a lot more intimate than a press conference.

I was eager to talk to Washington and Wilson, partly because I’m a big fan of both of them separately, and also because together in Lakeview Terrace, they create a sense of a couple genuinely in love, and that’s really rare onscreen. Wilson was running a little late, so we journalists talked with Washington first, and then Wilson joined us midstream.

I’d met Washington before, when she was promoting The Dead Girl, and she’s a bundle of infectious energy and passion. She’s so delicious in ways that go way beyond how physically beautiful she is that you just want to eat to her up. This was the first time I’d met Wilson, though: he walked into the room all buff and gorgeous and I thought, I love you. And then, halfway through our conversation — in reference to something that got so off track that I didn’t include it here — he mentioned how he can discuss the philosophy of Star Wars for hours, and I thought, No, now I love you, you big geek.

There are no spoilers in the following, so it’s fine to read before you see the film.
Washington: I just really fell in love with Lisa; I’ve never seen a black woman like this on screen before. A kind of like tree-hugging, crunchy-granola, Prius-driving black chick, and I thought, I have a lot of friends like that, I think we should see that on the screen.

I think one of the great things about the movie is that nothing is as it appears. Everybody has secrets. It’s a thriller — I hope people feel thrilled. But I also hope that they leave talking about the issues because there’s so much that comes up in the movie. One of my favorite things to do is to ask people, “What do you think this movie is about?” Because for some people it’s about race, for some people it’s about power, for some people it’s about secrets in a marriage. There are so many issues.

No matter who you are with, somebody’s not going to like it, whether it’s because of race, or because of religion, or because of socioeconomics, or because of what they do for a living, or because of where they live. Somebody is not going to approve of the choice of who you’re with. I think that’s a big part of being an adult: creating the life for yourself that you know is authentic to you and not worrying about what other people think.

[Patrick Wilson enters and joins the conversation]

[on creating a believable loving couple]

Washington: It’s kind of your job as an actor to do that. It’s your job as an actor to do whatever it takes. It doesn’t matter how you feel about that person afterward or before, you are there to do a job. One of the things was we have a very similar methodology, or at least work ethic, so we approached the work in a similar way. We take what we do very seriously but we also really love what we do so that helped.

Wilson: If people are there for the right reasons and you want to tell the same story, whatever that is, if you are on the same page, you get along. You just try to find the common ground. Any disagreements, if there are any, we iron out. It was a very collaborative environment.

[on whether a real relationship like theirs would survive an experience like the one depicted in the film]

Washington: Who knows? It’s hard to say. We get the question all the time, “What would you have done?” It’s impossible to know unless you’re in the situation. I do think what we see in the film is a couple being tested who’s being really pushed to the limit to see who they really are, as individuals and as a couple, and they rise to the occasion. They seem happy.

[on working with Samuel Jackson]

Wilson: You just sort of jump in. You just have to understand where the characters come from, no matter how ridiculous it gets. Like the chainsaw scene [a confrontation between Wilson’s Chris and Jackson’s Abel]: they look like children, and I think that’s the point. A guy I know watched the trailer and hasn’t seen the movie and was like, “Dude, you’re running outside with a Lacrosse stick [as a weapon]” [laughs] Well, that’s sort of what happens. It’s completely real and completely absurd. You don’t know how you’ll deal with that situation until you’re in it.

I never thought Sam was a crazy villain. You know it’s what he believes in. It’s not right or wrong, it’s just him trying to raise his family and he has a strict moral code and that’s what he wants to follow. How he exercises that comes into question, but you can’t fault a guy for wanting to keep track of his family.

[on being a theater actor first, as Wilson is, and working with a playwright in writer-director Neil LaBute]

Wilson: What am I going to say to that? He’s a hack. [laughs] It’s always helpful — you do speak the same language. And this is a pretty contained story — it felt like a play. We shot almost in sequence, for the most part.

Washington: That was because of the houses. The houses were such an important part of the film. We had to build them then destroy them, so a lot the film was shot in sequence. The story is also very isolated and insular, like a play.

[on being good neighbors]

Washington: I actually think this is a lot of what the film is about. We live in a world and country in particular were cultures are being collided. You look at a neighborhood that’s in the process of gentrification and you go, well, whose neighborhood is this? And who is a good neighbor and who is a bad neighbor? What does it mean to be a good neighbor in one neighborhood and a good neighbor in another? There are different rules.

Wilson: Does it mean, “Stay in your own world and don’t talk to anybody”? Or does it mean, “Fit in and try to accommodate”?

Washington: And who’s right? The young progressive couple or the more conservative law enforcement authority, who’s a single dad doing the best he can? It’s not a clean issue. I think that’s what makes the film intriguing because, Who knows?

Wilson: People have said, “Why don’t the characters just leave?” Hindsight is always 20-20. These people obviously thought their life was fine. He thought he was on the same page as his wife, and obviously that was wrong. I like the messiness of that.

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