I found talking to director and producer Marc Turtletaub to be one of my finer interviews here at AMovieGuy.com. Most interviews with actors or directors are a privilege to me, but this was one of the rare times that I could sense in my subjects voice that he truly cared about the film he made. Puzzle is not just a passing film. It's a beautiful story, about a woman who breaks away from the conformity of her life, and finds herself through the passion of puzzle making. As Turtletaub states in the interview, this was a rare coming-of-age story, about a woman in her 40's, with a great performance from Kelly Macdonald. Turtletaub has been a part of plenty of great films, Little Miss Sunshine, Safety Not Guaranteed, and the beautiful Jeff Nichols film Loving are just a few. Puzzle is Turtletaub behind the camera, directing because he knows this story and he wanted to bring it to life. I was lucky enough to talk to Marc Turtletaub for AMovieGuy.com. Read my interview below:
AMG.COM: Hi Marc, thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.
MARC TURTLETAUB: Oh it's my pleasure, it's a privilege to be able to talk about the film.
AMG.COM: Well, I loved this film and I am excited and hoping so many more people go to see Puzzle.
MARC TURTLETAUB: Thanks to the efforts from people like you the word of mouth builds. It's so critical, as you know with these independent films, we don't have mammoth ad budgets so telling audiences is critical.
AMG.COM: You had only been in the directors position for a feature one other time, what did it take for you to decide to direct Puzzle?
MARC TURTLETAUB: It was sent to me, this was originally an Argentinian film from 2010, which I had never seen or heard of when the American adapted screenplay arrived. I chose not to watch that film till I had finished production on my version. What I received was a screenplay that I fell in love with. I am always drawn by the written word on the page. The writing was wonderful. And in addition to the writing, it was a subject matter that I don't see very often. A story about a woman over the age of forty, as I put it, coming-of-age. We don't see those stories. We're starting to see it a bit more, with Frances McDormand in Three Billboards last year, but they are rare. Plenty about men over forty, but not about women. And none about woman who are finding their own authentic voice for the first time. It's unique, but it was a story about a woman who I recognize, because I saw in this woman my own mother, in a way she was like this when I was growing up, so I said I could tell that story.
AMG.COM: I noticed looking at your past projects, such as Little Miss Sunshine, that you gravitate to films that tell a story about family. What is it that keeps pulling you back into those themes?
MARC TURTLETAUB: Yeah, well I had the sisters and their children in Sunshine Cleaning too. I think those stories, there's an interesting dynamic that goes on in families. I'm drawn to character driven movies, they don't have to involve families, but often they just do. You have all this dynamic in a family, many great books have been written that way, many great movies made. It seems like there are wonderful screenplays in that world. And especially because it is multi-generational. When you see a movie like Puzzle you can say, “oh I can relate to the younger son because I relate to those bratty teenage kid, or the older son is the empathetic son, or the father who has a strong idea of how everything should be. Those are archetypes that we can all recognize. That's what draws me and it draws people of many different generations, so you find there is something in it for everyone.
AMG.COM: I loved your entire cast, but specifically Kelly Macdonald, how did you make the decision to put her in this lead role? And what is it about her that made the character of Agnes come to life?
MARC TURTLETAUB: Yeah Leo, I love Kelly and so many people love her. There were so many people making this movie who said “oh it is about time that she is the center of a movie.” She's had other roles where she's the number two on the call sheet and it's nice to have her number one. I fell in love with her, going way back to Trainspotting, but even more recently I loved her performance in a movie called The Girl in the Cafe, a small film with Billy Nighy. And I saw her in No Country for Old Men, and Boardwalk Empire, and you start to connect the dots between all of these movies and you think what an incredibly versatile actor she is. I just love that about her and also that she has the quality of attracting your attention as a viewer without pointing to herself. She gets lost in the role and yet, there's a magnetism that draws you to her without being showy. That felt to me like the Agnes character. When I sent it to her and she said she wanted to do it I was just thrilled.
AMG.COM: Do you do puzzles as a hobby?
MARC TURTLETAUB: No, I think as kids we all do some jigsaw puzzles, but I didn't do a lot. It's not something I am particularity good at to be honest. Nor was it a subject that I thought would intrigue me as a filmmaker, but when I read the script I realized it's not really about jigsaw puzzles, yes, that is her passion, but it's about her growing and finding her voice. The dynamic that takes place once she follows that passion, where it leads her, it opens up her world. When she gets to Grand Central station her whole life begins to change. That's what interested me, it's a longwinded answer to the question, but no I am not a good puzzler.
AMG.COM: I also wanted to ask, I am not sure if this is movie magic, but who were the people on set that would put together all the puzzles?
MARC TURTLETAUB: That's the prop department and they are magical. What they do is when you are doing a puzzle you might have 6 or 7 versions of that puzzle. Identical puzzles, so that as Kelly or Irrfan are putting the pieces in, and if you yell cut, you have to start over again, we don't have to remember exactly what pieces they put in. We just take that puzzle off and then the prop people bring on the identical puzzle back to where they started the last take. It's all in the preparation before you start shooting.
AMG.COM: What about bringing on Irrfan Kahn, he's been in the news recently with his struggles with cancer, but his work is always on point. What was it like having him bring his professionalism to the film?
MARC TURTLETAUB: He's one of the worlds great actors. Much like Kelly and David (Denman), I've loved his work. Largely, his work has been big American films, Jurassic World, where it's a role that is good, but it does not show off his full range. Seeing him in smaller movies like The Lunchbox, an Indian movie, or his TV work on In Treatment, you see his incredible wide range. When we had the role of Robert for him, I didn't know if he would want to work on a smaller, American independent film. And like me, he read the script and said he loved it. He asked to see my recent short film The Breatharians, he watched that and agreed to come aboard. When he showed up, now we don't rehearse at all, I like to bring actors in fresh and see what they are going to bring to the table. He arrived 3 weeks into the shoot. We only shot for 30-days, and all I do is talk to the actors about scenes. I Skyped with him beforehand, but that was it. He showed up, the camera is rolling, even before he and Kelly got to know one another. It's an interesting revelation when you deal with these great actors and they bring something to the table that is unexpected.
AMG.COM: We are living in a watershed moment for women in film & hollywood. Puzzle has a fantastic message about a woman taking charge, changing the outdated roles that women have, was that something you were conscious of, or is it a bit of fate that Puzzle arrived during this time?
MARC TURTLETAUB: I think it's serendipity. I knew that certainly when I signed on to direct, I knew Puzzle was a rare story. As I said, we just don't get these stories very often. I can't think of another movie about a woman over the age of 40 finding her own, authentic voice. I knew that was unique, but did I know culturally what was happening in society would arrive, no, this is before all of that. It was very interesting that its at a point in time of our history where it is important to be told.
AMG.COM: What sort of favorite films of yours have lead you to making a film like Puzzle? Did you have any movies you used as an inspiration?
MARC TURTLETAUB: I do, but not as references for this movie. Each movie tells me what they should be and this one did that. The only reference here is that I thought about the foreign language Oscar winning movie Ida in terms of the look. That was a black & white movie, much different visually, but the framing and the way it was posed, I loved it very much, as did my cinematographer Chris Norr. In terms of the story, there was nothing else like this, there are many movies that I love, which I go back to, as I am sure you do, but nothing specifically here.
AMG.COM: You've been nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture and came up empty handed. Is that something you think about, winning an award or is it just the final product that gives you a greater reward?
MARC TURTLETAUB: Yeah it is, you can't make art thinking you are going to win an award or not. With Little Miss Sunshine we won 2-Oscars for screenplay and for Alan Arkin. So we've had honors and that's all lovely, but you can't go into a story or a movie looking for that to be your outcome. You go into it trying to tell an authentic story that will touch people. If it does, that is the payoff.
AMG.COM: Thank you again, I loved the film and really hope as many people see this as possible. Thank you for talking to me today.
MARC TURTLETAUB: Thank you so much Leo. Please put the word out about Puzzle and I loved your interview today, so thank you.