Kenneth Lonergan, who just won a Writers Guild Award for his touching You Can Count on Me script, says directing the film was a lot more stressful than writing it. The first-time director remembers, "I was very tense" during the 28-day shoot of the small-scale examination of the ties that bind — and sometimes smother — an estranged brother and sister.
At a Feb. 26 screening on the Paramount lot, Lonergan and his Oscar-nominated lead actress, Laura Linney, talked about how far this little film has come, from tying for best film at Sundance last year to receiving two Oscar nominations.
Lonergan went from being one of the five credited scribes on Analyze This to directing his own script — thanks to the producing heft of Martin Scorsese, who had the official final cut of Count. "I call him Marty," jokes Lonergan, who is back to being one of many writers on Scorsese's Gangs of New York.
When asked about the best and worst days making the indie, Linney replied, "I see it as one really big, long day, to be honest. [When I realized] how low our resources were at one point, my heart sank."
Lonergan revealed just how tight the schedule was. "You didn't have the feeling that if it didn't go well you could just do [a scene] again the next day," he said. "You really sort of had to do it that day, which just makes me very nervous."
"The big scene with Mark [Ruffalo] and I at the restaurant, I think was a 15-page scene and we had less than half a day to do it," recalled Linney. "Every day, there was this enormous amount to do. Really good stuff that you didn't want to … mess up. You so didn't want to give it only 80 percent, you so wanted it to be as full as it could possibly be."
Lonergan, who has a cameo in the film as an unexcitable priest, confessed, "The day I actually had fun was the day we did the fight scene [between Ruffalo and Josh Lucas]. Everyone's adrenaline was way up when the guys started pummeling each other. That was the one day where it became kind of exciting instead of just an incredible pressure."
Lonergan and Linney both praised young star Rory Culkin (brother of Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin), who's been nominated for an Independent Spirit Best Debut Performance Award. "He was such a natural," Lonergan says. "He really understood the scenes without me having to say a lot."
"He and Mark really hit it off and they spent a lot of time together. He was a little afraid of me because I'm a girl," Linney laughed. "But he and Mark were always together. The cameras would stop rolling and they'd go run and jump in the creek. The costume people were tearing their hair out because they were finding newts and frogs [in his clothes]."
When an audience member asked Linney to clarify the phrase she and her on-screen brother used to say to each other — but never say in the movie — the actress smiled, Mona Lisa-like, and said, "It's the title of the film. 'You can count on me.'"