Examiner Dorri Olds sat down with filmmaker Isabel Coixet on Tues., Aug. 18, 2015 to discuss her film, “Learning to Drive.”
The comedy drama stars Oscar-nominee Patricia Clarkson and Oscar-winner Sir Ben Kingsley. Wendy (Clarkson) is a fiery Manhattan book critic whose husband (Jake Weber) has left her abruptly for another woman. Darwan (Kingsley) is a soft-spoken taxi driver from India on the verge of an arranged marriage. When Wendy decides to go visit her daughter (Grace Gummer) in Vermont, she hires Darwan to teach her to drive. It is a sweet and funny comedy with an edge.
The story was based on an essay by Katha Politt that ran in The New Yorker. The screenplay, which was quite a challenge to adapt for film, was written by Sarah Kernochan.
Coixet, who is an absolute joy to be around, was candid about her own experience of being left for a younger woman. Coixet is full of energy and spunk and a delicious sense of humor.
Dorri Olds: Sir Ben Kingsley was just singing your praises!
Isabel Coixet: I feed him caviar.
Who is a better driver — Patricia Clarkson or Ben Kingsley?
I have to say they are not good drivers. I think Patricia didn’t touch the wheel for years before this movie. She had a driving license, but I think she never crossed [the Queensboro] bridge before in her life. She learned to drive in New Orleans. It was different there. Ben is not a good driver either. I think it’s the only thing he does not do well.
How did you land Thelma Schoonmaker for film editing? Martin Scorsese always keeps her so busy.
I think she really wanted a change. We shoot just five weeks. She’s always working with an incredible amount of footage. I think she really wanted a vacation, and I think this film was a vacation for her, and we were very lucky to have her for that vacation.
Can you talk about the difference between directed Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson in “Learning to Drive” versus your earlier film, “Elegy”?
Ben’s character here is like the other side of the world. When we were shooting “Elegy,” Patricia showed me the story. I was experiencing exactly the same situation. The father of my kid decided to go after another woman. For me that was the end of the world. I have to say, reading that thing, it was just ten pages, but it showed me it was not the end of the world. There are people out there having real tragedies. Of course, when something like that happens to you, you think you’re the only person in the world experiencing that.
Films like “Learning to Drive” are difficult to [get financing for] even if you have Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley. What financiers and producers want is a franchise. They want a film they can duplicate. With this film, we can do “Learning to Drive” and we can do “Learning to Park” but that’s it.
Let’s face it. This is a film about relationships between people who are not spring chickens. Yesterday this very important journalist from a very important paper asked me, “So now that you hit 50, are all of your films going to be about 50-something relationships?” I didn’t scream. I didn’t punch him in the face, which is exactly what I wanted to do. You would never ask that to a man, never. A male director doesn’t have age, but if you’re a female director, it’s like you have a double backpack. You have to talk about it. Okay, I’ll do my job. Then you have to talk about your age. Can you imagine someone asking Steven Spielberg, “So, now you’re 70, are you going to do films about people in nursing homes?”
What are you working on now?
I finished a film which is going to come out at the end of the year. It’s a film with Juliette Binoche, Gabriel Byrne and Rinko Kikuchi called “Nobody Wants the Night.” I’m going to shoot a film in November in England with Emily Mortimer called “The Bookshop.” It’s a story in England in 1959 about a woman who wants to open a little bookstore in a little tiny village, and then everything is a disaster.
“Learning to Drive” opened in theaters Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. Comedy drama. Rated R. 80 min.