Big Stone Gap DVD
Cast: Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson, Whoopi Goldberg, Anthony LaPaglia, Jenna Elfman, Jane Krakowski
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Running Time: 102 minutes
Ave Maria Mulligan leads a simple life. She lives with her mother, runs the pharmacy and at 40 has decided that happiness is for other people. That is, until a long-buried family secret throws her quiet life spectacularly off course. With an all-star cast, Big Stone Gap is a love letter to small-town life and the triumph of love over all.
Big Stone Gap DVD
Available on DVD and Digital: April 27th, 2016
Question: What originally inspired the story of Big Stone Gap?
Adriana Trigiani: I love what if stories. I like to think about what would happen if you didn't get on that plane, decided not to marry that man, or chose to take that road that day instead of the other- small decisions can change the course of our lives. Writing novels gives the writer the ability to imagine anything could happen, anytime, anywhere and the freedom to craft a story that will engage the reader and explore the landscapes of our hearts, our longing, desires, disappointments and grief- in other words, the human experience that we all share.
So, the inspiration for Big Stone Gap came to me in Italy when I was visiting my family. I was in the Italian Alps, having grown up in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. There were similarities. I was talking with one of my mom's first cousins, he told me a story that provided the spark for the story that became Big Stone Gap. I imagined a young woman (Fiammetta) forced to leave her country (Italy) in shame because she's expecting a baby (Ave Maria) and finding a job as a seamstress in a coal-mining town in southwest Virginia (Big Stone Gap). Fiammetta is resourceful- She has to find a way to make a good life for her baby. Fiammetta is skilled as a seamstress, beautiful and young. The most successful young man in town, who owns the pharmacy marries her and accepts the daughter that his wife carries has as his own. Our story begins in 1978 when that daughter is 35 and her mother has died. What is to become of this woman, born in a secret, the truth hidden in shame, when she finds out the truth? I was interested in knowing what would happen to such a woman in a small town, and I hoped the reader would too.
Question: How much of the story is based on your own experiences?
Adriana Trigiani: The setting is my hometown, and I populated the books with characters whose traits, quirks and lineage reminded me of the people I grew up with, of the folks who lived in and around Big Stone Gap, Virginia. So, when I went to write the book, while it was very real in the telling, it was completely imagined and fictional. Incidences in the book actually happened, what we call the larger set pieces: Elizabeth Taylor's visit to town, the assembly at the high school following the explosive in the boys rest room, that sort of thing.
The novel is told in the first person, from Ave Maria's point of view, so readers naturally assumed that Ave Maria was me. However, the essence of Ave Maria Mulligan is not me, but a girl I grew up with, a friend from school. I finally told her that she was the inspiration for the character, and because I was able to tell her, I can share it with you. Her name is Kim Williams Shores. When we were in college, I went home for a visit and she was working at the Mutual Pharmacy. I knew that she was going away to school so I was surprised to see her working at home. She told me that her mother had gotten sick and that she had come home to take care of her. Kim traded her college experience in order to take care of her mother. I never forgot that conversation, and her devotion to her mother. Kim was one of those girls that was kind and good hearted, but also intelligent and beautiful. She was completely unaware of her beauty in a way that made her more beautiful. I wove the idea of her with a story told to me by my mother's cousin in Italy. Mom had a first cousin named Mario who was the mayor of Schilpario. He had never married. He was educated, well traveled, and a hit with women, but had never tied the knot. Of course, I was bold and asked him why. He told me and that became the inciting incident of the novel Big Stone Gap.
Question: Why did you choose to set the story in 1978?
Adriana Trigiani: Every great story needs a historical backdrop. In 1978, Elizabeth Taylor came to Big Stone Gap on a campaign stump with her husband John Warner. Great novelists use wars, famines and plagues as the backdrops for their fictional stories, and for mine, I used the night Elizabeth Taylor came to town and choked on a chicken bone. It made history, and was seared in our memories forever.
Question: What was the most difficult part about adapting the series for screen?
Adriana Trigiani: Adapting a book for the screen, particularly if the author is doing the adaptation requires her to choose one storyline from the book and make that the movie. For an author, it might border on an impossible task, but I'm also a dramatist, and that means, I'm a realist, I haveto take a story and bring it to life for an audience using actors and words in a setting, so I forced myself to look at the novel and choose the story from the bouquet of storylines, because any of those particular storylines, could be a movie.
I looked to the wisdom of screenwriters who adapt books, in particular Philip Dunne, who had adapted How Green Was My Valley and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, two of my favorite screenplays, made into two of my favorite movies. Luckily, Mr. Dunne had written extensively on the subjects and eventually, later in his career, had become a director. So, I had the wisdom of a writer who knew how to adapt a book successfully for other directors, and then later in his career, had decided to direct feature films he had written. He had regrets that he had waited to direct, and I took that in, and in times of difficulty, thought about him and pushed through, knowing that I was in the right job at the right time, and not to second guess anything, just make the movie.
I learned from Mr. Dunne that it takes three things to make a great movie: a great script, a great cast and a great production. If you have those three elements, you will make something wonderful. If one of those elements is lacking, you might get lucky and fool the folks, but your movie won't stand the test of time. So, I took pains with the screenplay, rewriting it over and over again as I finagled the budget. The script was lean as we went into production, but it got leaner as we shot the movie. I replaced two scenes with new scenes when I saw the actors in action and saw sparks fly between them. A writer has to seize those moments, and a director knows that those are the scenes that the audience will be thrilled by- and it ended up to be true in Big Stone Gap.
Question: Did you find it challenging to direct a film that you'd also written?
Adriana Trigiani: I found it exhilarating and convenient. If I saw a scene wasn't working, we moved off of it quickly. As we were shooting, if I repeated information, I'd cut the scene and write a new one to move the story along. I made many mistakes of course, and wished, once we were in editing, that I would have had this shot or that shot, or this set up or that one, or had thought to write this scene, or had insisted to film a scene I had seen in my mind's eye the way I had seen it there, but you get what you get and make it work. You can not control what is out of your control, so you'd better make sure what is in your control is as close to magnificent as you can make it: this means being prepared, focused, flexible and serving your actors. If you are with them, serving them, they will tell you in performance if you've written the scene properly, or if it needs more from you or less. As a director, I am there to serve the actor. As the screenwriter, I'm there to serve the story. If the screenwriter did her job well, the director can fly.
Question: What was the best part about creating the character of Ave Maria?
Adriana Trigiani: Ave Maria is a tenderhearted survivor who has never really had a single one of her dreams come true. She has served everybody else and taken care of everyone else in her life, and never given her own needs much attention. She settles until this story begins and she can't anymore. I guess what I love most about her is that she didn't give up, she didn't surrender her life and choose less, she took a risk when she was not a risk taker. That takes guts, and I love a gutsy character. Let's face it, in life or the movies, nothing gets done without a gutsy character- somebody has got to take the lead- when somebody does, change happens, a life can change or on a bigger canvas, history.
Question: Can you talk us through the casting of Big Stone Gap; did you have actors in mind when writing the script or even the originally series?
Adriana Trigiani: I had the best cast, and I say that, not because I'm throwing Hollywood glitter on this movie, but because it happens to be true. Each actor brought a particularity to his or her role, a specific idea that blossomed when they came together. I don't write novels and picture actors- I picture real people. When I write the screenplay, I'm still picturing real people- but when I cast the actor, then I begin to cut the coat to fit the actor- which is glorious fun. Every actor brings the experience of all his or her movies to your movie- it's as if hundreds of roles, all that beautiful and vast experience comes and enriches the stew that is your movie. Anthony LaPaglia is one of the most gifted comic actors there is- and that means he is also a gifted dramatic actor- he can make me laugh and cry. Ashley Judd is a gem- a pro- and brilliant. Patrick Wilson- a marvel. He's the bones of your building- the structure of your movie. Jenna Elfman- brilliant comedienne and everything else. John Benjamin Hickey- magnificent. Jane Krakowski- a pinwheel of wonderful in every way- Whoopi Goldberg is the gold standard; Paul Wilson- a find and a treasure, Judith Ivey- magnificent- Jasmine Guy- perfection- Chris Sarandon- come on- one of our greats; I had a glorious bouquet of actors to work with- and they put it all on the screen- the newbies, Bridget Gabbe and Erika Coleman were stellar. You can't go wrong when you have great actors.
Question: What was it like working with Whoopi Goldberg?
Adriana Trigiani: Whoopi Goldberg is an international treasure, the real deal and a consummate actress. A lifelong seeker of knowledge, a voracious reader (and listener of audible books!), observant, sensitive, strong and supremely intelligent, she has worked hard for everything she has achieved, and yet, there is an effortlessness to her work that makes the set light and fun when she is filming. She brings elegance, grace and hilarity. She is also your anchor and your strength. So, imagine a glorious balloon with a fifty foot ribbon tied to an anchor. She is both limitless possibility and solid footing. I don't know where it comes from, or how she does it, but she has an Academy Award, an Emmy, Tony and Grammy in her house for good reason. She is tops.
Question: Will we see the three other books, in the series, developed for screen?
Adriana Trigiani: Yes, I would love it!
Question: What's next, for you?
Adriana Trigiani: I'm finishing a new novel right now, out in 2017. I'm working on the script for another movie, adapted from one of my novels. I'm working on a musical with Amanda Green based on Rococo for Mario Cantone.
Big Stone Gap DVD
Available on DVD and Digital: April 27th, 2016
Interview by Brooke Hunter