The Mary Sue Interview: Bluebird’s Amy Morton And Lance Edmands On His Directorial Debut
The new film Bluebird ventures deep into the rural woods of Northern Maine to take an intimate look at two different families nearly destroyed after a single event. Louisa Krause’s Marla, a heavy-drinking single mother whose son lives with his grandmother (Margo Martindale) is found near frozen to death in a school bus, driven by working mother Lesley (Amy Morton), who somehow accidentally forgets to check the back of her school bus in a moment of distraction and forgetfulness. Guilt ridden and fearing for her own family’s welfare, Lesley struggles to deal with her mistake, while Marla questions her own fitness as a mother.
Film editor Lance Edmands makes his film debut with Bluebird, which opened the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival and played a multitude of film festivals. Edmands won the Grand Jury at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, which also earned the female cast a collective best actress award. I spoke with Edmands and Morton, a Chicago-area actress who stars in both Chicago Fire and spin-off Chicago PD.
Lesley Coffin (TMS): Regarding the casting, what do you have to consider in order to create a convincing family?
Lance Edmands: It’s really challenging to cast a family, because you have consider if these people could physically exist as a unit, but also emotionally if they have chemistry. Would it make sense that they would be in love and have a history? All of that has to be built into it. And you don’t have control over every element, but you work together to create a shared history and then write a script which suggests a backstory feels baked-in. It’s always a real challenge and I really like the family we created.
Amy Morton: This time around I found it easy to step in and be a family. John is super easy to work with and Emily is so sweet. It felt seamless and easy.
TMS: How long did it take to write the screenplay and what changes did you find yourself making in final drafts?
Edmands: It took a long time to write it because I started from a very abstract place and worked towards the concrete. I started with the location and emotional atmosphere I wanted to achieve, and then used the location as an inspiration for the types of characters that would live there, and then thought about the story that would bring out those emotions I wanted to achieve. I was sort of writing backwards, and it took a long time to find the center of the story. There was a lot of distilling and clarifying so the most important aspects stood out.
And then there was a lot of debate of where and how to end the story. Should we give the audience a resolution or not? And how much should we leave up to their imagination? And for me the question was always, watching these sort of frozen characters and watching them thaw out. And in that thawing, they go from silence suffering to reaching out and learning to communicate. But there is still a lot left up to the imagination and these are issues which will take years to resolve.
TMS: Why set the film in a lumber town?
Edmands: I was inspired by the location. I grew up in Maine and we shot in Northern Maine. I was always just kind of fascinated by the location and world of these paper mills that were closing and leaving ghost towns in isolated rural environments. It was a location with fascinating visual landscapes but also fascinating people with very specific points of view, and I wanted to film in one of these paper mill towns before they were all gone. And in fact, the paper mill in the movie has since closed and there was a bit of a documentary impulse to making this movie.
TMS: How do you avoid stereotyping when filming on location?
Edmands: Stereotyping is what happens when you take a lot of short cuts when trying to create a character; trying to make a person dress a certain way or talk a certain way. And the way to avoid that is by deepening the inner life of these characters; giving them histories and real motivations that are specific to their characters, so you take them from being general notions to being specific. And in that specificity is where you get the real person. With this film we knew we were dealing with specific archetypes but it was about finding ways of deepening their characters that the actors could work with and we could highlight in the story. Basically to make them more three dimensional
TMS: Amy, you mention understanding her character completely. What was it about her that was the initial draw?
Morton: I considered her interior landscape not understandable. I knew it would be within my wheelhouse. And I found the temperament of people in northern Maine to not be dissimilar to the people in the Midwest, which is where I’m from. So, I was very interested in exploring this characters as internally as Lance had written it. So that is what attracted me to it. I knew it would be a challenge.
TMS: Was it important that the two people who made the biggest mistakes were mothers?
Edmands: It was important that the two mistakes were simple and small; mundane distractions. I was attracted to the idea that this tragic event was not bombastic or violent. It was a simple mistake and in a lot of ways it couldn’t be more banal. It was simply a lapse in memory, a quick distraction that causes such reverberations. And the fact that the two mothers are so connected was also meaningful to me, because they were both parallels, but they could never see the world eye to eye, despite their shared history. And I also think that the character played by John Slattery, he makes mistakes as well which could have just as big an impact. He doesn’t endanger a child, but he endangers the family through poor decision making and his coworkers when he’s distracted. All the characters make mistakes when they are distracted.
TMS: Why include the scene of her arrest?
Edmands: At that moment, everything is closing in. The DA has made their decision that someone needs to be charged. And Lesley finds herself caught in this system. They say no one is trying to through the book at her, but decisions have to be made, people have to be held accountable, paper work has to be handled. In a lot of ways, she’s not getting pillared, but the system has sucked her in. No one wants to see her publicly flogged, but she is getting sucked into this system.
Morton: I also think it’s kind of interesting that what we’re used to seeing when people get arrested in the media or the news usually accompanies an act of violence and often men of color. And to see this very quiet, unassuming mother getting arrested is jarring to the sensibility.
TMS: Why select a bluebird?
Edmands: It native to Maine, but it’s migratory, so the fact that the bird is there is strange. Why it is in this bus, but also why hasn’t it flown south? And I always thought Lesley had a kinship with the bird. Why hasn’t she flown south and left this freezing place? And the same thing with the boy, who’s left behind. And the bluebird is also the name of the bus company and there is a poem by Robert Frost called “Last Word of a Bluebird,” which is about a little girl named Lesley who befriends a bluebird, and when winter comes, the bird explains it has to fly south and they can’t be friends anymore. It’s this very simple, sad poem that a lot of people think is a children’s poem, but one that teaches children about loss. And I named Amy’s character after that little girl in the poem, and I always thought of that as Lesley’s connection to this bird.
Lesley Coffin is a New York transplant from the midwest. She is the New York-based writer/podcast editor for Filmoria and film contributor at The Interrobang. When not doing that, she’s writing books on classic Hollywood, including Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector and her new book Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.