Martin Donovan talks Collaborator

Collaborator is a dark comedy about Robert Longfellow, a renowned writer experiencing the humiliation of the failure of his latest Broadway.  He leaves his wife and children as is his habit with little explanation to return to his childhood home in suburban Los Angeles.  Heís ostensibly doing business for his mother (Katherine Helmond) but heís actually depressed and wants to get away.  

While there he reconnects with his ex- (Olivia Williams) and indulges in a kiss.  The kiss is shot by an unknown photographer, hits TV and goes viral.  His wife (Melissa Auf De Mar) watches in horror.  Meanwhile, Longfellowís motherís next door neighbor, an oafish, drunken ex-con (David Morse) wants to bend his ear. 

What follows is a heart pounding confrontation that turns worlds upside down.  We spoke with Donovan from his home in Vancouver, B.C.

M&C: The marriage subplot was incredibly realistic.  You kiss an ex flame, and someone snaps a picture and it goes viral.  Is this a statement about our media culture?

Donovan:  Yes - the intrusive nature of it, a stand-in for all of our lives, even if we're not celebrities.  More and more we're exposing ourselves online Facebook and Twitter.  The sense of privacy is a quaint concept.  It used to be something that people felt was important now I find it very confusing.  In the film it was meant to be a very intrusive thing and humiliating and painful exposure for everyone involved. 

I didnít want to let Longfellow off the hook.   I donít mean to judge anyone's marriage and love.  It's a complicated business.  I just donít make judgment but there is no question infidelity is somewhere in his mind.  One aspect to being a womanizer is depression and Longfellowís deeply depressed, looking for some way out of it.  It's what a lot of people do.

M&C: What was the starting point for the film?  Was there a real life incident you knew of?

Donovan: No, this really comes from my life experience as a late bloomer growing up in American suburbs post war period with the tumult and that Iíve experienced as a young kid in the 60's with older siblings and the war and civil rights and assassinations.   All that stuff had a huge impact on me as a young child in the sixties.  The rest of my life has been this journey this desire to make sense of the world and uncover who holds the power. 

The nature of power and I didnít understand  until the last 20 years or so,  and I am pretty obsessed of political versus personal, was where the power was and concluded that they are inseparable.  You try to deny the social, political context and that is a political; act, thatís what interests me.  There are elements in the story taken from my life; any writer has to take some elements from their life.  I just put these two guys in a room to see what would happen.

M&C: You are American and grew up in California but live in Canada.  Is it a political statement?

Donovan: No, not at all. I came here to do a US TV show shooting in Vancouver and we had been living in New York City and the kids were younger.  We were here for six months and liked it and tried to keep them in the school and our parents were alive at the time in southern California and weíd been on the east coast for so long so it was good to be closer to our families.  It kind of comes down to the kids; I love Vancouver it's a pleasant place to live for sure. It was by no means political.

M&C: The characters and situations were realistic and naturalistic, and the events seem brutal yet natural.  Itís so shocking. 

Donovan: I tried really hard to create situations that were organic and believable and also kind of tried to make something that I hoped audiences would find compelling and keep them on their toes.  It's not like any other film, there is no genre component, that is, it doesnít fit into any genre. Its constantly shifting and you think youíre in one movie and then it shifts and audiences drawn.

M&C: You picked an amazing supporting cast of David Morse and Olivia Williams and Katherine Helmond to Canadian Melissa Auf De Mar (of the rock band Hole).

Donovan: Olivia and David were the two actors I had in mind from early on and thankfully theyíre the ones I got, and Iím thrilled. 

Melissa's name came out of the blue by our sales agent at eOne.  We had to cast a Canadian actress and I met some but when sales agent said what about Melissa Auf De Maur? We had mutual friends in New York and I got very excited about the idea. 

I wanted someone who wouldnít do the long suffering housewife but be her own person, her own creative self-deciding woman.   I didnít want a wife dependent on the husband and she brings that.  She has such creative energy.  And itís the first time she ever did a feature film role.   She was good and courageous. 

M&C: Itís in such tight quarters and the emotion is so intense, it feels like a play.  Would you do it as a play?

Donovan: No not a play Iím not really interested in a play.  I wanted to make a film and have total control over what audience sees, and in terms of being close on charactersí faces, and full control over pace and everything some people have made the point it could be a play.  It would become something different as a play a different thing.

M&C: How tough was getting the film made?  Did you ever get into a funk?

Donovan: Well sure yeah, it never itís a very difficult process, not always a walk in the park.  The thing that caused the most stress and emotional upheaval was the financial aspect.  A couple of times when I was told if we didnít get 30k in the bank by the afternoon, the crews were going home.   Movie making is tough in this environment and economy.  It's always a struggle no matter what the film is, versus the 90's.  It's a miracle this got made.

M&C: How do you compare television and film as an actor?  Youíre in Boss and have done some Canadian shows since you moved here.

Donovan: Itís hard to say you have to take it on a case by case basis. Some television is great, this is the Golden Age of TV with the best directing and acting is happening.  Economics have forced people to take their work to television to make a living.  And there are films that are done for all the wrong reasons and so you have to look at it case by case.

M&C: This is an important project for you having written, directed and starred in it, the first time youíve done it all in your career.  Was in any way intimidating? 

Donovan: Oh sure, thereís always a certain amount of terror of anything I do thatís the nature of who I am. I really emerged feels like it was inevitable place for me to get to as a creative life, had a deep, deep desire to write and make a film and I realized that acting to arrive there.  It really is all the same piece; itís hard for me to distinguish.  This film is coming from the same place.

Further Reading on M&C

David Morse Biography - - David Morse Movies -