RABBIT HOLE is a vivid, hopeful, honest and unexpectedly witty portrait of a family searching for what remains possible in the most impossible of all situations.
Becca and Howie Corbett (NICOLE KIDMAN and AARON ECKHART) are returning to their everyday existence in the wake of a shocking, sudden loss. Just eight months ago, they were a happy suburban family with everything they wanted. Now, they are caught in a maze of memory, longing, guilt, recrimination, sarcasm and tightly controlled rage from which they cannot escape. As Becca finds pain in the familiar, Howie finds comfort.
The shifts come in abrupt, unforeseen moments. Becca hesitantly opens up to her opinionated, loving mother (DIANNE WIEST) and secretly reaches out to the teenager involved in the accident that changed everything (MILES TELLER); meanwhile Howie lashes out and imagines solace with another woman (SANDRA OH). Yet, as off track as they are, the couple keeps trying to find their way back to a life that still holds the potential for beauty, laughter and happiness. The resulting journey is an intimate glimpse into two people learning to re-engage with each other and a world that has been tilted off its axis.
RABBIT HOLE is directed by John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) from a script by acclaimed playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, adapted from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
In RABBIT HOLE, a family faces a crisis that changes everything. Everything except the fact that they are still a family, just as entangled by love, humour, anger, need, rivalry, blame and hope as they ever were.
The Corbett family's safe, comfortable world may have been turned upside down since the death of their young son. But it is their connections that remain - no matter how absurd, awkward or hanging by a thread - that form their lifeline. It is these relationships that render their story into not only a moving portrait of loss and grief, but also an unexpected journey into the raw, funny and surprising human moments that keep us all fighting to regain one's life in the face of tragedy.
Olympus Pictures, Blossom Films and OddLot Entertainment present RABBIT HOLE. The film, a departure for director John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) - and featuring a cast passionately drawn to the material, including Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart and Dianne Wiest - was adapted for the screen by acclaimed playwright David Lindsay-Abaire from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play. The producers are Leslie Urdang, Dean Vanech, Nicole Kidman, Per Saari and Gigi Pritzker; executive producers are Daniel Revers, Bill Lischak, Linda McDonough and Brian O'Shea.
Lindsay-Abaire's play took the New York stage by storm in 2006. It was a wholly unanticipated work from an artist who then was best known for his madcap twists on the screwball comedy with such pieces as Fuddy Meers and Kimberly Akimbo. Yet, while RABBIT HOLE explored the more serious subject of a young family upended by a random accident, and was far more palpably real than anything Lindsay-Abaire had done before, the story did not go in a conventional direction.
With a complete lack of sentimentality, Lindsay-Abaire created Becca and Howie Corbett as a couple full of wit and bite, and smart enough to know they're not going to have any soaring, grand, Hollywood-style triumph over loss, no matter how much they want it. Instead, their story became about the way people really cope with tragedy - awkwardly, stubbornly, sarcastically, and in fits and starts of forgiveness and reconciliation that come out of nowhere, only to move them slowly, achingly forward towards an altered, but still cherished, life.
The very name of the play - suggesting Alice In Wonderland's famous dive into an extraordinary, unfamiliar realm where impossible things happen - evokes the surreal experience of grief, which leaves nearly everyone who encounters it feeling like a stranger in a strange land.
Lindsay-Abaire not only created a very true-to-life couple caught up in this off-kilter world, but he created them as emotional polar opposites. Private, carefully controlled Becca wants to put away the past and all the relationships in it, yet reaches out to the teenager who inadvertently caused the accident. Meanwhile her husband Howie grasps onto memories and friendships, and tries to find comfort in their marriage.
Then the playwright surrounded the pair with a cast of flawed characters who help to bring them home again. Equally key to the story was Becca's wilder sister Izzy, who in an awkward twist of timing announces her pregnancy; Becca's mother Nat, who so desperately wants to help ease her daughter's sorrow yet only seems to frustrate her; and Jason, the teenage boy whose own life unravelled when he accidentally hit the Corbett's son with his car and is now as lost as they are. All of them are left ill at ease, and yet together, they uncover hard-won moments of humour and grace that might be the small steps toward a life they can someday recognize again.
RABBIT HOLE garnered five Tony nominations including Best Play, won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Lindsay-Abaire and quickly became internationally renowned. Meanwhile Oscar®-winning actress and producer Nicole Kidman became intrigued with the play before she even saw it - so intrigued that RABBIT HOLE would become the first project she produced and starred in for her company Blossom Films.
Producer Per Saari, Kidman's partner in Blossom Films, recalls: "Nicole, who was in Australia at the time, read a review of the play and thought it sounded like the kind of material we wanted to support: powerful, human drama coming from a new and talented voice in the form of David Lindsay-Abaire. Nicole and I had a good feeling about it. Determined to see the show before it was discovered by Hollywood, I flew to New York on the eve of the worst blizzard to hit the city. I ended stranded there for almost a week, but it was time well spent."
As soon as he saw RABBIT HOLE on stage, Saari understood why critics were so excited by its deft, dry, humour-laced approach to tough topics that are often undone by sentimentality. "The play was raw and it didn't shy away from the truth of what grief is, but it was also hopeful and it was funny - humour and new beginnings, of course, being a big part tragedy," Saari says. "Having lost my father and my brother recently, watching the play was a tremendously clarifying experience: 'oh yeah, I remember that,' or 'I've never been able to put that experience into words, but there it is.' It was like David had written the perfect sentence with the perfect words defining what loss is, and yet it all had such humanity and character."
Kidman had a similar reaction. "I believed in the subject matter," she says, "and I like to champion stories that are hard to get made. I was just really captivated by this couple who share an extraordinary, deep tragedy and yet they react in such very different ways. They have to grieve in their own ways and yet still live together. I found that very fascinating and I really wanted to play Becca, who was so brilliantly brought to life on Broadway by Cynthia Nixon. I was so excited to help introduce that character to a movie-going audience."
When Saari met with Lindsay-Abaire, the playwright was ready to jump in. "I never quite felt like I was finished with the characters in RABBIT HOLE," the writer confesses. "So when Per and Nicole approached me, the idea of exploring them from the new perspective of a film really excited me as a writer."
He continues: "Right away, Per told me they wanted me to feel the same sense of ownership as I had with the play. Of course, writers are never told that, but they were true to their word. I was involved at every turn, and not a single line of what I wrote was changed. Ultimately, everyone who came onto the project - John Cameron Mitchell and the truly amazing cast - contributed so much to it. I was indebted to them but I always felt like I was in there, too, and that was a real gift."
"Supporting the artist is a priority for Nicole and me," explains Saari, "and I think we all saw eye to eye on the importance of maintaining this project's integrity from beginning to end. David was a part of the family from that meeting onwards." Also joining the new team were producers Leslie Urdang and Dean Vanech of Olympus Pictures, who took a lead role in bringing the project to the screen. Says Saari, "Nicole and I were lucky to be partnered with Leslie and Dean, who were also the film's financiers, along with OddLot. Leslie is well versed in the language of smaller-budgeted films and everyday they proved to us what could be done for little or no money. Even a project whose stars seem aligned has something each day that threatens to shut it down - swine flu, a freak New York tornado - and Leslie was there with her smile and her dozen independent films under her belt to remind us that this is the way of indie filmmaking. You just keep on moving forward."
Urdang and Vanech were as drawn to the material as Kidman and Saari. "I had seen the play, and easily imagined Nicole as an exquisite choice for Becca," says Urdang. "And I, like so many producers, had been in search of material that would interest John Cameron Mitchell since Hedwig. Needless to say, I was extremely excited to read the screenplay, and it was more elegant, funny and heartbreaking than I could have ever anticipated."
"The particular appeal of RABBIT HOLE," elaborates Vanech, "was the number of factors that came together to tell a difficult yet hopeful story - and in a way a producer could reasonably wait an entire career to find. The elegant simplicity and emotion of the script, the casting (which alone would make any filmmaker rush to make the film), the brilliant choice of director and our accomplished production partners made the decision to proceed as easy as eating ice cream on a hot summer day."
Producer Gigi Pritzker from OddLot Entertainment added her first impressions on reading the script: "I was immediately drawn to the material, and the way that it walks the fine line of tragedy, irony and levity is brilliant. I was also impressed with the fact that Nicole and Per had chosen to work with the play's author for the adaptation. David Lindsay-Abaire was able to achieve what few playwrights can in adapting his own work for the screen."
"It seemed an important story to tell because all of us have or will have to deal with loss," concludes Urdang. "And RABBIT HOLE, with its humour, honesty, and forgiveness reminds us of how people - each in their own way - can carry on to a beautiful and valued life even after the most impossible pain."
The Thing That Frightens You Most: Developing the Story for the Screen
When he began writing RABBIT HOLE, David Lindsay-Abaire was inspired by a piece of advice that had stuck in his mind from his Julliard professor Marsha Norman: "Write about the thing that frightens you most." The writer confesses that, for a long time, he wasn't exactly sure what she meant by that.
Then, he had a son, and suddenly, it made perfect sense. "When I thought about what it would be like for me to lose my son, I experienced the grip of fear in the most profound way,"
Lindsay-Abaire explains. "That became the seed of RABBIT HOLE." As he began to explore the roots of his fear, that seed opened up organically into the Corbetts, who came to life in a series of family conversations in their lovely Westchester home, conversations filled with terse, charged dialogue that belied all the emotions boiling under their seemingly placid and beautiful surface.
Faced with translating the tightly-crafted play into a motion picture experience, Lindsay- Abaire had to look at the Corbetts anew and expand their story beyond the play's single on-stage location.
"The play had stayed entirely in the Corbett house but I quickly realized that writing a movie was going to allow me to completely open up Becca and Howie's world," he explains. "I had the chance to take a lot of the incidents that are just talked about in the play and allow the audience to experience them. For example, I was able to show the Corbett's support group and what goes on there, and to show what really happens when Becca is in the supermarket and sees a mother with her child. All of this in turn gave me a better chance to understand these people because their world was now more expanded and they could move through it in a whole different way."
Nicole Kidman was impressed at how organically Lindsay-Abaire was able to switch into a broader, cinematic viewpoint. "He's a natural," she says. "He really knows how to speak a cinematic language, and he has such a great understanding of these characters and what they're going through. I loved working with him."
In refining the dialogue for the screen, Lindsay-Abaire also made it a priority to bring the wry humour and sense of the absurd that were woven through the play into the film's script.
"I've worked incredibly hard as a writer to push against the possible dourness of this story," he says. "That matches my experience, which is that people don't lose their sense of humour even in the saddest of times. I think that the Corbetts were always funny people and now that they happen to be going through a tragic loss, that doesn't just go away. It was important to me that moments in the film feel as buoyant, humorous and engaging as the characters themselves."
To ensure his vision, Lindsay-Abaire knew it would take a director who could bring his own fresh perspective to the story. As he wrote, the producers approached John Cameron Mitchell, whose roots are also in the New York theatre world but broke out into film with the critically-acclaimed indie musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, based on the off-Broadway play he co-wrote with Stephen Trask. Mitchell followed this with the award-winning sex comedy Shortbus, revealing his diversity as a filmmaker.
RABBIT HOLE would be a major stylistic departure, yet everyone, says Per Saari, could see Mitchell bringing something special to the story.
"Our biggest challenge was finding a filmmaker who could translate this story to film in a way that would fulfil its potential. Part of what makes the play work so well is there isn't a false note in the whole piece. One false note and the spell would be broken," comments Saari. "What unifies John's work is an unflinching look at the human condition. Right away, Nicole and I were intrigued by the idea of John applying the no-holds-barred approach we saw in Hedwig and Shortbus to the characters in RABBIT HOLE. John, whose own brother died when he was young, had a personal connection to the material, and it was clear from his insights that it was his film to make."
"I had never met John before," reflects producer Vanech, "but spent two hours with him over a coffee in the village and was immediately won over. I was particularly excited by his thoughtfulness and specific approach to the balance of sadness, hopefulness and humour that was required to make RABBIT HOLE authentic as well as entertaining."
Lindsay-Abaire also felt an affinity with Mitchell. "What I love about John is that all of his work is emotion-driven and honest, while also being whimsical and funny," he says.
"Watching John's previous films, I felt like he reaches for all the same things as a director that I do as a writer and there was a very good match between the two of us."
Mitchell says that RABBIT HOLE actually has a lot in common with his two more comically offbeat films, once you peer under its more naturalistic surface.
"I've always been most attracted to stories about people trying to connect, trying not to be alone, and to characters who are chipping away at their walls," the director says. "All my films share that. They're all about people looking for that scrap of light at the end of the tunnel. They are each done in completely different styles, but they share that same soul, if you will." Upon reading Lindsay-Abaire's script for RABBIT HOLE, Mitchell felt the allure of its themes. "I loved that it's a story not only about loss but about the loss of communication that comes with it. I found myself alternately weeping and laughing my way through it," he says. "I usually like to develop my own scripts but this felt so deep, so mature, so rich that it knocked me right off that course. My interest was instantaneous and I dropped everything."
Soon after putting down the script, Mitchell spoke with Nicole Kidman. Whatever happened, he wanted to let her know of his feelings for the material and, to his amazement, an instant communion was struck between them. "I think there was some kind of instinct in her that this was the right match and things started moving very quickly," recalls Mitchell. "It rarely happens that way, but it was lightning in a bottle."
Says Kidman of Mitchell: "I don't know if you can say we chose him as a director. I think he found the piece and we found him. That's a far better way of phrasing it because ultimately if the motives are pure, everyone is there because they want to tell this story. So you find each other and you walk the road together."
"I have always admired John Cameron's Mitchell's work," added Pritzker, "but I admit I was surprised at first that he was eager to direct this material, as it seems such a departure for him. After a long conversation with John, it was clear to me that not only was he perfectly in sync with Lindsay-Abaire's work, but would also bring his unique sensibility to it."
As it had been for Lindsay-Abaire, the humour of the piece was essential to Mitchell, providing a way for the audience to connect and a way for him to get to the characters' sense that their world has suddenly flipped from calm and comfortable to implausible and illogical.
"I think whenever there's tragedy, it is accompanied by absurdity," notes Mitchell. "To me, it wouldn't be realistic to have a story like this without humour. Humour is such an integral part of everyday life and it's one of our tools for navigating relationships and for surviving. I always thought it was vital to David's screenplay and it became vital to the performances."
A Couple Divided: Becca and Howie Corbett
At the heart of RABBIT HOLE are Becca and Howie, who thought they had the quintessential family life and modern marriage until it was shattered by a senseless accident, leaving them suddenly unsure of how to do anything, including relate to each other as husband and wife. The story moves, in a sense, on the waves of their unpredictable emotions, making the roles both highly challenging and fascinating to actors. Read more
Family History: Nat and Izzy
As tilted as their world has become, Becca and Howie still have to deal with the rest of their family, including Becca's mother and sister who have no idea how to help her but nevertheless keep trying.Read more
An Unexpected Connection: Miles Teller as Jason
One of the most challenging roles in RABBIT HOLE went to the film's young newcomer Miles Teller who portrays Jason, the teenager whose life takes a fateful turn when he is driving just as the Corbett's son bolts into the street after the family dog. Trying to cope with the paralyzing guilt, Jason tentatively reacts to Becca's unexpected contact with him with pure honesty that comes in the form of a confession, as if declaring more guilt will ease her pain. And yet somehow their connection seems to do just that. Teller, who was a student at New York University when he auditioned, makes his feature film debut in the role.Read more
A Beautiful, Altered World: The Film's Design
RABBIT HOLE was filmed on location in New York, primarily in the upscale Douglaston area of Queens, a neighbourhood lined with winding, hilly streets and sprawling houses, where the production created the Corbett family's home and community in an intense 28 days of shooting.Read more
JOHN CAMERON MITCHELL (Director) directed, wrote and starred in the film HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (2001), for which he received the Best Director and Audience Awards at the Sundance Film Festival. He was also nominated for a Golden Globe® as Best Actor. He was executive producer of Jonathan Caouette's documentary TARNATION (2004). His improv-based film SHORTBUS was released in 2006. As an actor he appeared in the original Broadway casts of The Secret Garden, Six Degrees of Separation and Big River. He has directed music videos for the bands Bright Eyes and Scissor Sisters and is producing THE RUINED CAST, an animated feature directed by graphic novelist Dash Shaw.
DAVID LINDSAY-ABAIRE (Screenwriter, film based on his play "Rabbit Hole") is a playwright, screenwriter, lyricist and librettist, whose play Rabbit Hole premiered on Broadway, and went on to receive the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Spirit of America Award, and five Tony® nominations. He was most recently nominated for a Grammy® Award (Best Musical Show Album), and two Tony® Awards (Best Book of a Musical, and Best Score) for his work on Shrek The Musical. Prior to that David was awarded the 2008 Ed Kleban Award as America's most promising musical theater lyricist. David's other plays include Fuddy Meers, Kimberly Akimbo, Wonder of the World and A Devil Inside, among others. His newest play, Good People, premieres on Broadway this winter, starring Frances McDormand. In addition to his work in theatre, David's screen credits include the upcoming features GUARDIANS OF CHILDHOOD (DreamWorks), and OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (Disney, directed by Sam Raimi). David is a proud New Dramatists alum, a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and the Juilliard School, as well as a member of the WGA and the Dramatists Guild Council.
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