It was a great script and it didn’t hurt that it had a nice pedigree in terms of Jonathan Demme. My Oscar was for Melvin and Howard—also a Demme film. And I knew that Anne had signed on to play the daughter. But ultimately, my decisions are based on scripts. At first I thought the story was about this one thing but then I realized it’s actually about hope and about music being the tie that often binds us, and it’s through music that we know who we are and who other people are. The themes kept getting bigger.
You had never previously worked with Anne Hathaway. How did you establish the dynamic with you playing this chain-smoking, anxious mother and Anne as Franny, your over-achieving, estranged daughter?
We went out to a café. It was just Annie and I. And we sat and talked for several hours and I realized there was a great connection, or at least enough of a good start to make it work.
Were there any memorable, transcendent moments on set?
Those scenes where it was just Annie and I were pretty cool. We’d cut and look at each other and say “Wow. It was a privilege to do that scene with you,” because they were tough scenes to get through and we had to look deep into each other’s eyes and play off of each other and we went where we needed to go—I hope.
Probably most memorable though was the scene with Johnny and Annie where I break out the accordion and play. It’s so awkward and the whole arc of that scene is so interesting, because it starts with reminiscence about my glory days in Paris but then it becomes this thing where despite all distractions, I can’t escape the fact that I have a son lying across town in a coma. I love scenes with that kind of movement, where it starts somewhere over there and ends up in a totally different place.
Were you actually playing or did they edit in the music track during post-production?
It was all me. I actually write music for Universal Publishing Production Music. CBS Sunday Morning does these profiles and they just did a segment about my compositions. In the film, I’m actually credited with a song called, Man in the Moon, and I play few bars of it but it’s longer and has lyrics. I told Ted I wanted an accordion for Valentine’s Day 2013, and now I have eight accordions because I’m completely obsessed. Kate originally scripted me playing the ukulele until I said, “I’m not comfortable with the ukulele. I’d much rather play the accordion” and she got this look of surprise and said, “Do you have one?”
You have an actress daughter and a director son whose film The One I Love is also premiering here at Sundance ‘14. As an industry veteran, what advice do you give your kids?
I’m not the biggest advice giver. I think I’m more of a cheerleader. I cheer people on. I mean if someone asks me directly, I’ll tell him or her what I think, but I don’t necessarily cast out advice. Our kids know the business is tough. They’ve grown up with people commenting on them or criticizing them but instead of becoming cynical, I think it gave them a stronger sense of identity. It caused them to choose their friends wisely. I don’t feel the need to give them advice because I’m so proud of who they are as people. If anything, I feel like I learn more from them than they ever could from me.
What’s next for you?
I just got signed on for the end of Justified. I start filming right after Sundance for this season and I’ve got a bigger role for next year. I’m excited. I still love what I do.