If the “Twilight: Eclipse” premiere was the tough ticket of this year’s L.A. Film Festival, drawing roughly 5,000 fans from all corners of the U.S. in order to get a glimpse of Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner at the Nokia Theater, then “Welcome to the Rileys” proved to be damn near impossible.
Kristen Stewart fans gambled on the ability to sit less than ten feet away from the star inside one of the smaller Regal Cinemas at L.A. Live, but having to contend with the fact that seven of the 15 rows in the theater were already roped off for VIPs of one kind or another.
LAFF director Rebecca Yeldham came out to introduce the film and moderate the post-screening Q & A (a job usually handled by programmers or volunteers), and before the film started, Melissa Leo spoke on behalf of herself and co-stars Stewart and James Gandolfini, who stood off to the side, a reminder that “Welcome to the Rileys” not only boasts a talented ensemble, but one of the most spotlight-weary as well.
For those who have been following the film’s distribution drama since Sundance, it was unveiled with a brand spankin’ new Samuel Goldwyn/Destination Films logo in front, replacing Apparition as the distributor, who will bring the film to theaters in October. But the real drama was on screen, with the idiosyncratic tale of a wholesale plumbing supply salesman (Gandolfini) who attempts to drown his sorrows in the Big Easy during a trade show and encounters a stripper/prostitute (Stewart) who reminds him of his late daughter who died in an accident. Leo plays Gandolfini’s distant wife.
Gandolfini, Stewart, Leo, writer Ken Hixon and producer Michael Costigan took to the front of the theater to discuss the origins of the film. Naturally, Stewart received the bulk of the questions, being asked in particular about playing a role so different than her most famous creation in “Twilight.”
Stewart admitted that she wasn’t necessarily afraid of playing a stripper, but “I was terrified because it was written really well” and expressed pride in learning some of the film’s stripper moves, though mostly they happened off-camera. “The silhouette in the beginning?” Stewart rhetorically asked almost giddily, “Thanks. That’s me.”
Saying she would “jump off a bridge” for director Jake Scott, Stewart found talking to the working women of the Dixie Divas strip club in New Orleans where the film was shot was key to finding her character, noticing the many lost women like the one she played with “dead eyes” and “open wounds.” When prodded by an audience member, Gandolfini confirmed that the toughest scene in the film for him to shoot was a scene where Stewart is particularly vulnerable in the lot of a motel parking lot. Gandolfini said, turning to Stewart, “I remember that was a long evening because you had to fall apart so many times.”
Stewart lightened the mood when asked about whether she had any issue with some of the tough language her character uses, confessing that during a scene where the character gets a urinary tract infection, she “felt really weird saying ‘pussy'” in front of Leo.
In order to achieve the perfect pitch for the scene, Leo improvised off-camera, saying “make pee pee,” a comment that somehow gave Stewart the inspiration to carry on, though she wondered whether Leo felt strange about it. “I’m a mother, Kristen,” Leo fired back, getting the night’s biggest laugh. “It’s not weird to say ‘make pee pee’ for me.”
On a more serious note, a fan pointed out that Stewart had said in previous interviews that her turn in “Welcome to the Rileys” was the role she liked playing the most, a statement she clarified by saying, “Maybe it just affected me the most…Sometimes you can leave shit at work or you can’t.” Of “Rileys,” she said, “this is undeniably in you.”
[Photos: “Welcome to the Rileys,” Samuel Goldwyn Films, 2010; James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart and Melissa Leo at the L.A. Film Festival, Stephen Saito/IFC.com]