Interview With Jane Anderson
How did you first come across ?Olive Kitteridge??
I had read the book for pleasure, under the recommendation of several friends, and I utterly fell in love with it. It?s a brilliant piece of literature, and I also related to it because my parents were like Henry and Olive. I thought the author Elizabeth Strout so beautifully captured that dynamic of a particular marriage.
What is a Henry and Olive marriage?
A Henry and Olive marriage is a marriage in which you have a dynamic but difficult woman who is deeply loved by an endlessly optimistic man. I?ve talked to many people since writing the screenplay, and people who?ve read the book, and I?ve met many people whose parents are a Henry and Olive dynamic. Of course, no one will admit if they?re in a Henry and Olive dynamic.
There?s certain men who fall in love with these kind of women because they are so intelligent and so powerful and so impossible to please. There are certain men who just can?t help themselves, they just want to find a way in.
What?s your personal relationship to Olive?
Well, she?s my mom. My mom was never suicidal, but my mother was a very strong, well-educated, interesting, highly judgmental woman -- but infinitely decent. I so wish my mom were alive. She passed away before Olive was ever published as a book, and my mom was a really great reader. I know she would have loved Olive, related to it, and I wish both my parents could have seen this film. But I love Olive, I understand her.
How?d you land the job of adapting the book into a miniseries?
[Executive producer and star] Frances McDormand approached me a couple of years ago when she got the rights to the book and asked if I would like to adapt it. We?re friends. It?s very tricky to do a major creative collaboration with a friend, but in this case, my respect for Fran -- my awe for her intelligence and professionalism and talent -- only increased tenfold after we finished. She was a wonderful muse during this process.
How did you work with Frances while adapting this?
Here?s the really interesting thing. She said, ?I want to play Olive, but I don?t want to be the main character. I want to be a side character.? If you read the novel, it?s a series of short stories, and Olive isn?t in half the stories. That attracted Fran because she said, ?I?m not a star. That?s not what I do. I?m that other character in a film. Just put me in the side.? I said, ?But Fran! It?s called ?Olive Kitteridge,? and you?re Olive. I need to bring Olive to the forefront. That really is probably going to be the focus and you?re going to have to get used to it.? She finally agreed: ?Okay, okay, okay.? If we had been given 10 parts, I could have basically reproduced the book. I love how the four parts forced us to really focus in on Olive.
What was the biggest challenge?
It took a long time for me to solve this as an adaptation. Because HBO?s work is known for its edginess, we talked about how we make this very brilliant novel about older people in a small town in Maine sexy. What will make this different? What will give this edge? I tried an outline where we started backwards and we went back in time, and it didn?t work. Then I tried it starting with the suicide scene. It?s just three minutes of screen time that assure the audience that something really drastic is going to happen down the line. When you add stakes like that everybody can just friggin? relax, and I can tell the story. I can just unwind it. You need that in television, and you need that in a miniseries.
Did you consult much with Elizabeth while writing?
I talked to her on the phone, and basically she did me the huge favor of saying, ?Go do what you need to do.? I was so in awe of the book. Awe creates writer?s block. After I told Elizabeth how much I loved her book, I said, ?I?m going to have to play with the structure and do all kinds of things to it because it?s a different medium.? And she said: ?Fine.? When Fran and I heard that Elizabeth had seen it and that she just loved it, we were so relieved because that?s the greatest accomplishment, that the original author feels that you did a good adaptation.
What?s your writing process?
I like to be at my desk by 8 a.m., fully dressed and showered as if I?m going to an office. I know some writers who will work in their sweat clothes and stink, that?s a different kind of process. I need to be squeaky clean and up and I?ll just work all day, five days a week. I work like a banker.
You were executive producer on this project, what does that mean for you exactly?
Executive producer really was pre-production -- writing, figuring out how to solve it. Once production began, director Lisa Cholodenko took over. I visited the set a couple of times, but I didn?t have a job anymore and I needed to stay out of the director?s hair. I turned it over to Lisa because, at that point, it was her vision. I do it out of respect. Having been a director, I know what it?s like to have too many people hanging around the monitor and clicking their tongues. It?s maddening. I visited because I just had to -- and then I went home and wrote the next thing.