CHICAGO – The issue of gender identity, especially for those who are born with a vagueness as to what to call themselves between/beyond boy and girl, has come front and center in the U.S., both with the legalization of gay marriage and the callous repudiation of identity by trying to pass laws dismissing it (the North Carolina “bathroom” laws). The performance companies of The Living Canvas and Nothing Without a Company is currently staging “[Trans]formation,” which presents gender identity art by six performers, who perform most of the play in the nude.
Interview: ‘Big Stone Gap’ Writer/Director Adriana Trigiani to Appear at Chicago Screening
CHICAGO – One of the truest aphorisms ever uttered is that “you can take a person out of a small town, but you can’t take the small town out of them.” Veteran novelist, TV/film writer and now director Adriana Trigiani took that eternal truth and created a film tribute to her heritage in “Big Stone Gap” (2015). Loyola University in Chicago will have a special screening of the film, with an appearance by Ms. Trigiani afterward (via Skype), on Monday, February 8th, 2016 (details below).
Adriana Trigiani celebrated her Italian roots and Appalachian background first in the “Big Stone Gap” series of novels, which began in 2000, and currently is on its fourth book. This was after she had a successful career in television writing, working on “The Cosby Show,” “A Different World,” and “City Kids” (for ABC/Jim Henson productions). Besides the Big Stone Gap book series, she has also authored the “Viola” series for Young Adults and several other stand alone novels. “Big Stone Gap” is her directorial debut.
Patrick Wilson and Adriana Trigiani on the Set of ‘Big Stone Gap’
Photo credit: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
HollywoodChicago.com spoke to Adriana Trigiani in October of last year, when “Big Stone Gap” received a limited theatrical run. It was released on DVD last week by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, and is available for digital download.
HollywoodChicago.com: What specific instances from your life spurred the idea for the first novel of ‘Big Stone Gap,’ and how did you want those instances to be highlighted in the film version?
Adriana Trigiani: The story began when I was a young woman and I traveled to Italy. My mother was from the mountain region of Italy, and I thought it was interesting that I grew up in the mountains of Virginia in the Appalachia region. The people in Italy were just like the people of Appalachia. I began to notice, as I traveled more extensively, that mountain people everywhere are similar – in their music, celebrations and attitude towards the rest of the world. They handle isolation much better, and they want to be familiar to the people who are around them.
So from this the archetypes emerged for the novel and screenplay. The rest came from my first trip to Italy, as my mother had a first cousin named Mario, who never married even as he was over age 50, and he wasn’t gay. So I asked him why, and he told me this story about when he was 15 years old, and had a girlfriend in the mountains, and was caught making love to her. The girl’s family wanted him to marry her, but couldn’t convince him to do it. That’s what turned him off to marriage. He was a commitment-phobic man that grew up in the 1930s and ‘40s. That was interesting to me back then, because it was so uncommon.
HollywoodChicago.com: How did that inform the ‘Big Stone Gap’ story?
Trigiani: It was the seed. I was writing a play in 1986, and was having problem with one of the scenes. It was between a father and a daughter, and she’s asking him why he abandoned her. I put it in a drawer, but found it later. I expanded that circumstance and supposed that the girl in my cousin’s story went to America because she was pregnant.
The child was born, and became the main character in ‘Big Stone Gap,’ and that informed the rest of the story. Maria in the book and film has to solve the puzzle of where she comes from in order to commit to and love somebody herself.
HollywoodChicago.com: You have a fairly long list of all stars in your cast for the film version. What was the process of assembling such a team, and which cast member was the catalyst for others signing on?
Trigiani: When the script drew attention, as it did, the casting became a house of cards. Because if you can get one person, the others might want to work with them, and then they sign on. This is an ensemble story, and it attracted actors who like to work in ensembles. The shoot was short, only 20 days, so it was like camp – come together, respect each other and get it done.
Each of the performers were there for what they could bring to it. Patrick Wilson had roots in the town. Ashley Judd I pursued ardently – she reminds me of a classic studio-era star like Bette Davis or Myrna Loy. I wanted Jenna Elfman because she has a great comedic sensibility, like Betty Hutton. Jane Krakowski will do anything you ask her, and she came in fully loaded.
Ashley Judd and Jenna Elfman in ‘Big Stone Gap’
Photo credit: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
HollywoodChicago.com: The film is set in 1978. What elements of that era seem more appropriate to the type of characters that you create. Do you think they could exist in the same way in 2015?
Trigiani: The answer off the top of my head is that people have not fundamentally changed, except in this way. People now are really lonely. We don’t have marriages that last, and we don’t communicate very well, even though we have so many more ways to communicate.
My movie is one that you come to with your heart open, because in my opinion the most dangerous thing you can do it love someone. That’s the guts of life, that’s the truth of life and that is the tough stuff, and the character of Maria embodies it.
HollywoodChicago.com: If reading is an escape, what do you think the readers of your books are trying to escape to? Are you presenting them lives that have a sense of wish fulfillment to them?
Trigiani: I always say I’m in the entertainment and enchantment business. I want people to escape. As far as wish fulfillment is concerned, I think we all want a simple thing, and it isn’t material. It is a connection to our emotional life, and you get it in my books and film.
HollywoodChicago.com: Since you’ve worked around one of the biggest TV celebrities in that history, what did you observe about the power of that celebrity back then, how do you think it plays into what is currently going on with Bill Cosby’s situation?
Trigiani: I was hired by a woman show runner on the Cosby show, and I worked with woman in association with Bill Cosby. I was around Mr. Cosby several times alone in conference, and I was an unmarried single woman. Never once was there an untoward moment.
But having said that, I am a woman, and my heart is broken for the women involved in the situation, and my heart is broken for him and his family. I am devastated– for the woman, for him and for the whole circumstance.