Evening is a deeply emotional film based on the beloved novel by Susan Minot, who adapted it for the screen with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Cunningham (The Hours). It deals with the timeless love that binds mother and daughter, seen through the prism of one mother’s life as it crests with optimism, navigates a turning point, and ebbs to its death. Two pairs of real-life mothers and daughters-Vanessa Redgrave and Natasha Richardson, and Meryl Streep and Mamie Gummer-portray, respectively, a mother and her daughter and the mother’s best friend at different stages in life. The rest of the stellar cast includes Claire Daines, Glenn Close, Hugh Dancy, and Eileen Atkins. It is directed by Budapest-born Lajos Koltai, an Academy Award-nominated cinematographer (Malena) who made his directorial debut in 2005 with the uniquely realized Holocaust story Fateless. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Koltai about his latest work.
What was your reaction to the novel? I didn’t read the novel first. I got the beautiful script by Michael Cunningham, who wrote The Hours and he gave me this well-structured script. Michael had gotten the okay from the novelist Susan Minot to make some big changes with the story. The book was too much. It was 30 different characters and more marriages, more kids : you can’t handle all that in a film. Michael did a great job, not just with structure but by narrowing it down so that you still have the same power to it. Of course, I had personal attachment to this story, of somebody saying good-bye to this world. My parents are dead but my grandmother died in my hands and it is something I will never forget. What I put in the film was a personal thing : I thought about my childhood and my sister who is older than me and we had totally different memories about the same thing. And that’s a good way to make a film. That conflict between siblings is in the movie.
This is one of the most remarkable ensembles of actors. How did this cast come about? Vanessa was the first whom I met because the studio liked the idea of offering her the role. She was in London and we met at a hotel. After a while she said, “You know, this is such a great thing that you asked me to do this movie because I love so much your work.” And that’s what I’ll never forget. We had an instant rapport. Then I found Mamie Gummer in an open audition, and I didn’t know at the time she was Meryl Streep’s daughter. Fortuitously, Meryl came because she wanted to work with Vanessa. I had worked with Glenn Close before as a cinematographer, and she agreed to be in the movie as a favor to me. Little by little, the rest of the cast came into place after that.