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Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin and Sofia Vassilieva Discuss ‘My Sister’s Keeper’

Sofia Vassilieva, Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin in My Sister's KeeperSofia Vassilieva, Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin in ‘My Sister’s Keeper.’

© Warner Bros Pictures

Cameron Diaz stars as Sara Fitzgerald, wife of Brian (Jason Patric) and mother of Kate, Anna and Jesse, in the dramatic film My Sister’s Keeper, co-written and directed by Nick Cassavetes and based on the best-selling book by Jodi Picoult. In the film, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) is diagnosed with leukemia and Sara and Brian make the decision to have one more child (played by Abigail Breslin) specifically for the purpose of using that child – a genetic match to their sick daughter – to save Kate’s life. The film raises many moral and ethical questions in telling the story of parents, in particular a mother, willing to do whatever it takes in order to keep a child alive.Diaz hasn’t played a mother before, but director Cassavetes knew she had it in her. “It’s weird that she has never played a mother in a movie and she’s playing a mother of three in this movie and they’re teenagers. Yes, it’s weird, but that doesn’t scare me. I knew she was up for it. I thought it was fresh casting,” said Cassavetes. “I think she’s terrific in the film. I’ve got to tell you, I’m more proud of her performance in the film than I’m proud of a lot of things in my life. I think she’s fantastic in the film.”

 

Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin and Sofia Vassilieva Press Conference

Cameron, this is the first time you’re playing a mom, and playing a mom to teenagers is a big step for an actress. Was there any hesitation or concern about going that route, or was the material just too good to pass up?Cameron Diaz: “Yeah, I didn’t really think about it. I really don’t think about this stuff too hard. [Laughing] I just find my way through it. Nick [Cassavetes] brought me this script, and it was a wonderful script. I didn’t really even think about the fact that I would be playing a mother. I didn’t think about it, in terms of what it meant to my career. I thought of what it meant to the story, and who this woman was, and what her life experience was and what was happening in front of her. I didn’t think, ‘Oh my God, if I play a mother, and a mother of teenagers, how is this going to affect my career?’ It didn’t even phase me.”

Cameron, having a sister yourself, how did you feel when you read this script?

Cameron Diaz: “Family is so important. What drew all of us to this story was the family, and the stories of each of these characters. Neither Sofia nor Abigail has a sister.”

Abigail Breslin: “In the movie, my character and Sofia’s character, Kate, are sisters, and my character loves her sister so much that she’s willing to go to any lengths to help her. That’s what I liked about the movie. You think that this family is all in this big problem, which they are, but they all love each other, even though they’re going through this whole thing.”

Cameron Diaz: “Reading this script, I think we all related to the fact that there isn’t anything that you wouldn’t give someone that you love that deeply. You do whatever it takes to keep that person alive. I think that that’s something that spoke to most of us,for this film, and what I think is so effective in the film.”

Sofia, how did you feel the first time you looked in the mirror and saw yourself in this character?

Sofia Vassilieva: “One day when we were doing a screen test beforehand, we had just done one where it was the wig when the hair was falling out and it was the very beginning of it all. I remember I came into the trailer and I was hysterical. It was so hard to see yourself like that, and it was so hard to envision other people going through that, and that’s something that happens every single day. The two things that made that moment better were that Cammy and my mom were there, and they both [came] in when I was sitting in that chair, crying.”

Cameron Diaz: “It was so brave of her to do it. She was 15 when she did it. If anybody thinks back to when they were 15 years old, the last thing you want to do is shave your head and then your eyebrows. That’s when you’re getting a real sense of who you are. It’s so formidable. It was very brave for Sofia to do. It was amazing.”

Sofia Vassilieva: “And I think that it let me see myself in a different light, being so new and pure, and having a completely fresh start. At 15, I wasn’t conformed to any idea of myself.”

Cameron, can you talk about working with Abigail and Sofia? Was there a specific scene with each of them where you felt like you hit that moment?

Cameron Diaz: “Every scene with them. They are really amazing. They’re both extraordinary young women. What was amazing about working with Abby was that I realized you see her and you’re like, ‘Oh, she’s just a little girl,’ but she’s got so much power within her. I went up to her mother and said, ‘Your daughter is a warrior.’ She possesses something inside herself that is of the nature of a warrior, where she just knows how to push through. She can take all these things that are happening around her, that are these very adult, complicated, complex situations and ideas, and she’s able to somehow put something behind it with more strength than you see in most people. I was amazed by how strong she is. She’s just a powerhouse.”

“And Sofia is the most tender of tender. Everything is right there on the surface, at all times. You don’t want to fall into her depth too deep because you don’t where it’s going to end. She has such a depth of feeling and emotion. Both of these girls were so generous with me, as actors, every time. Abby was crying off camera, and I was like, ‘Sweetheart, you don’t have to cry off camera,’ and she was like, ‘It’s okay. I’ve got it.’ They were just so generous. And, Sofia, having to play a girl who is having to tell her mother that it’s okay for her to die was something where Sofia held me for those moments. It was such an enriching experience on a level that was totally new for me, so it was great.”

Cameron Diaz and Sofia Vassilieva in My Sister's KeeperCameron Diaz and Sofia Vassilieva in ‘My Sister’s Keeper.’

© Warner Bros Pictures

 Cameron Diaz and Sofia Vassilieva in My Sister's Keeper

Can you talk about Nick Cassavetes, as a director, and whether you were familiar with his or his father’s work before you got involved with the project?

Abigail Breslin: “My experience with Nick was that I met with him before we started filming and he said, ‘Abby, I’m just going to tell you right now, this is going to be a work out and you’re going to have to do things in this movie that you probably don’t want to do.’ And I was like, ‘Okay.’ And then I got to set and I was like, ‘Wow, he wasn’t lying.’ But, I think that Nick is a really good director. He just really sets the tone for the day. If it was a scene that was a really hard scene for someone, he would just say, ‘Okay, you’ve gotta be serious today. No joking around. This is a serious day.’ But that’s what makes it good because you’re really into it, from the beginning. You’re in that mind-set of the scene.”

Sofia Vassilieva: “I had been a little bit familiar with Nick’s work before we met. And last Christmas I got very familiar with Nick’s father’s work. But working with Nick was incredible on a level that I had never experienced. As Abby said, he was really, really great at setting a tone. But what was different for me was that it was very personal and very connected. He has that incredible ability to just tune into that right feeling. He can really get that essence. You can just look at him and feel it, and it’s this incredible energy that overpowers the set, that was phenomenal to me.”

Abigail Breslin: “And, also, something I noticed was that I felt very comfortable to go up to him and say, ‘Do you think that it would be all right if I did it this way?’ He was very open to any contributions.”

Sofia Vassilieva: “Nick was this leader of all of us, and he would give everybody their place to play and create, whether it was the actors or the prop department or anything like that. He chose the right people to surround himself with that were the best of their craft and could create on their own, and he gave everybody that space and the opportunity and freedom to go with it where they wanted to.”

Cameron Diaz: “I think him being an actor himself, prior to being the director he is today, really helps his ability to communicate with his actors. If you ask Nick, he’ll say that he loves actors – and he really does. He’s incredibly generous with his actors. He gives so much of himself, particularly in this movie, because it’s a very personal thing. He’s gone through having a sick child and so he knew, really intimately, what this experience was like and he was able to give that to all of us, and communicate it in a way that really went to the core and essence of the experience and the moment. He just has a wonderful sense of humanity and what it really is to feel things on the level that these people feel.”

Did you meet cancer patients before filming this?

Sofia Vassilieva: “I had met with cancer patients and doctors, and visited City of Hope. We all fell in love with a few incredible kids, including Nicole, Paul and Kelsey. They really were there, on a daily basis, to be a guide and a reference point, and lead the way.”

What did you do in between takes to raise your spirits?

Sofia Vassilieva: “Being in that condition was incredibly difficult. I don’t think there are words to describe it. And I felt very isolated. Even though you’re the strength of the family and you’re telling them everything’s going to be okay, whether you’re here or not, you have to separate yourself from this world. You have to cut that off, and still be a part of it. So, in a way, I felt very alone. But we did balance all of that nightmare that we were going through. There would be days when we’d have the most powerful scenes of the film and, when we were shooting, we would be going through that over and over again. And then we’d cut and we’d be telling ridiculous jokes that I still can’t bring up to this day. So, the strength of the people around me – Nick, Abby, Cammy, Jason [Patric] and the whole family – was such a strong unit, outside of the film, and they gave me strength.”

Cameron, did you ever feel like you really were the mom?

Cameron Diaz: “The wonderful thing about our job is that we pretend. There’s a place of pretending, and that is on set and in the film, when we were rolling. But,I would never try to be these two girls’ moms, outside of that. It’s inappropriate, and I don’t feel that way about these girls. I had just met them, so our experience was very authentic to who we are, as Abby and Sofia and myself and Evan [Ellingson]. So, we would hang out with one another, like people who just knew each other, as we did, which was a lot more fun. I don’t think they would like me as much, if I was actually their mother.”

Abigail Breslin: “Of course, doing the scenes, there is a certain time where you do have to stay in it, in between takes. There was one scene that me and Sofia did, where her character is trying to take these pills, and I remember thinking to myself, when we were in this dark room for a day and a half doing this scene, and then walking outside for lunch and thinking, ‘It’s daylight still?’ There’s definitely a time when you do have to stay in it, but I think that we also managed to [do other things]. Cameron would cook in her trailer for us a lot. She made chili cheese fries one day.”

Cameron Diaz: “I would ask the kids, ‘What do you want to eat today?’ and each one of them got to pick what they got to eat for lunch, for a day. Evan always wanted fajitas, Abby wanted chili cheese fries, and Sofia was on a special diet for the whole thing, so I would try to force her to eat stuff that she wasn’t supposed to.”

Sofia Vassilieva: “But I held my ground.”

Cameron Diaz: “Her discipline was amazing. Her discipline is beyond. I had to talk her down from it a couple of times. I was like, ‘After this, it’s over. No more discipline like this.’  We talked about balance. It’s okay to be disciplined for a period of time, but after that, it’s about balance. You can still have it in your life, but you can’t be so strict. But, she got out of it.”

 Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin in My Sister's Keeper

Can you talk about feeling a connection with people who have actually gone through this, and how difficult it will be for someone who has had a family member go through this, or have a personal experience with it?

Sofia Vassilieva: “One of my very big concerns, after having met with Nicole, was how is this movie going to affect those who have gone through it and who’ve lived this, day in and day out.”

Cameron Diaz: “Nicole was one of the girls who was Sofia’s advisor.”

Sofia Vassilieva: “She was my guiding light. And so I sat down with her and said, ‘You’ve been through this, you’ve seen this, you know this firsthand. How can you go see it?’ And she looked at me and told me that we’d be telling the story of these people and these families. When people’s stories are told, it’s always very important to give that lesson that they’ve learned and the stories that they’ve lived. She told me, ‘You go do them justice. You go show these people what [our] lives are like. Don’t shy away from hiding it, or being overly kind. Show the reality of it because that’s what it was.'”

“We’re not a family, we’re not related, we weren’t going through it, but I felt pretty confident that we did everything in our power and pushed every line we could to create this story, to honor it, and to create relationships that would make it significantly real and important.”

Cameron Diaz: “All we can do, as actors, is do the best that we can, if we don’t actually have the experience of it. Sofia looked like she was dying, but she was a vital, young girl. Same with myself. I’m not a parent, but I know what it is to love, very deeply, something that I wouldn’t want to have taken away from me. So, all we can do is just empathize with that. We can only guess what it might feel like, from our own experiences. Would the movie have been different if Sofia had had cancer, or if Abigail had had her marrow sucked out of her, or if I’d had a child that I was close to losing? Yes, it certainly would have been a different film. But, we had a director who knew what that was, and we were fortunate to have the director be as generous as he was, in sharing what those emotions felt like, on a very real level and in a very realistic, up front, unsympathetic way. We just tried to show what the reality of that situation is and honor it the best that we could. We were fortunate to have that going for us.”

Abigail Breslin: “My grandpa had cancer, so I have had personal experience with it. You just take from what you do know and what you are familiar with. And, Nick was great. He just really put us in the situation, which was really great to do. It was not really fun to be in, but great to do. So he really helped with it, but you also just have to take from what you know.”

  This film deals with so many provocative themes. Were there any scenes that were difficult to film because they differed from your own personal beliefs?

Cameron Diaz: “I think this film succeeded, period, on what it set out to do, which is to make people feel. It’s successful in doing that. When I first read the script, I wasn’t worried about how to play somebody who other people might think is so unsympathetic. People might think, ‘How does this woman justify doing this to this other child?’ The whole moral questioning about this really goes out the door. You think you’re going to really feel like she’s wrong, but you find, at the end, that you really cannot judge her. When I went to play her and understand her, I found that I can’t judge this woman. I don’t know what it’s like to have a child who’s dying. I don’t know what it feels like. All I know is that every parent that I’ve spoken to says the same thing. You do whatever it takes to save your child, period, whether it hurts another child of your own to do so. That is what you do. You jump off a cliff, you step in front of a train, you do whatever you can to keep that child alive. That, at the end of it all, made it so much easier for me to just know that there’s no judgement in this movie, as far as I was concerned.”

Abigail Breslin: “My character is put in a really hard situation, from the day that she’s born, where she is giving her sister blood and bone marrow, and all this stuff, and she doesn’t mind doing it. She’s happy to do it, but she’s put in this really hard, really tough position, in the movie, when her sister doesn’t want her to do it anymore. She has to make a decision about whether or not she proves her love for her sister, or she alienates herself from her family. That was one of the hard things. I remember when I was first reading it, it was at night and my mom was like, ‘Okay, you’ve gotta go to bed now,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t want to go to bed. I want to finish reading it.’ And then I got home the next day and started reading it and I was like, ‘Wow, why doesn’t this girl want to help her sister? That’s not very nice.’ Then, when I finished it, I was like, ‘Wow!’ It’s a very, very difficult situation to choose between sides. It’s hard to think about that.”

Sofia Vassilieva: “For me, the strength of Kate was to be able to let go and be the first one in the family to say, ‘Look, this is going to happen and it’s time. It’s been 14 years of being sick, and you need to let go.’ Off camera, I’d be crying hysterically between every take. I’d be like, ‘I can’t do it!,’ and Nick would be like, ‘Okay, you have to do this,’ and off we’d go. The journey for me was that balance of letting go, and then being scared to my wit’s end. We’re so separate and so together, at the same time. You feel for every single one of these characters. You can stand by every single one of them and understand why every single person is being the way they are. You can really get into their mind-set.”

Abigail Breslin: “What I found interesting about the movie, when I read it, was that there really are no bad guys. Everybody’s doing what they think is right. They’re not trying to do anything wrong. They’re just doing what they think they should be doing.”

After making this film, have any of you thought about becoming advocates for the cause?

SoCameron Diaz and Sofia Vassilieva in My Sister's Keeperfia Vassilieva: “I’m an honorary ambassador for Stand Up To Cancer. And I recently took a trip to Memphis and visited the kids in the hospital, and really learned about this incredible facility, founded by Danny Thomas, that really, surprisingly goes all the way. They don’t just care about the child. If you can’t cover your medical expenses, they’ll do it for you. They care about the family, to a point where, when you have bone marrow aspirations and you’re getting transplants and you’re in isolation for weeks on end, they create a room next door for your parents with a shower and a couch, and they really make sure that everybody’s okay. They don’t max out your insurance, so that when something else happens to a family member, you’re covered there too. The walls are covered in murals that were chosen by kids, and that they’ve created. That love and that detail can’t go unnoticed. That was really, really empowering for me, to see that and hear the stories of these kids.”

Abigail Breslin: “I went to a Stand Up To Cancer event and I got to actually take calls and talk to some of the people who were making donations. It was a telethon.”

Cameron Diaz: “I think all the organizations that have come to light in the last decade since we’ve found ourselves, as a society, riddled with cancer, are amazing. For me, a lot of my focus is going towards environmental thought of what’s creating this cancer for our society. What’s our overall health and what are we doing to cause this? We don’t know what causes it because it’s such a variable. There’s a variety of things that they think might be causing it. So, my focus is more on education of how we can be healthy overall, every day, and hopefully cut out some of these things that might be causing the cancer.”

Sofia Vassilieva: “When you visit hospitals and talk to people, everybody is trying to find out how to cure it. It’s triage. The matter at hand is saving a life. There’s not as much thought going to what’s causing it and, long term, how we can eliminate whatever it is that’s causing it, rather than fighting it as it’s there.”

Cameron Diaz: “It’s called preventative.”

Having just seen the mother who took off with her son because she didn’t want him to have chemotherapy, when you talked to the moms that you did for this film, did you also talk to parents that had to let go, at some point?

Cameron Diaz: “I don’t think the mother who took her child is any different than any mother who has a child that’s dying of cancer. I think she was just doing what she thought was right. We can’t judge her on that. Now I know I can’t really judge anybody on that. You don’t know what it’s like, until you have a child dying in front of you. And, if she’d looked a little bit closer, Sara might not have put her whole family through what she had, had she listened to her daughter and just let her go.”

“The parents that I spoke to all said that this script really reflected what happens to a family who has a child with special needs. Everybody falls away and everyone else’s needs, in the family, fall away. It only becomes really focused on that child. As far as speaking to a mother who had to let go of a child, we didn’t have any parents who had had to do that.”

“Unfortunately, we lost one of the boys, Paul, who was in the film with us. Speaking with his mother, during that time, you really get this sense that there’s never really a time that you let go. You really don’t. I don’t think, as a parent, that you can actually ever let go, even when you honor your child’s decision to be released or the child is finally taken from you. That’s really what was coming from all these parents. I don’t think anybody ever really lets go.”

Can you talk about how the journal came about?

Abigail Breslin: “We had the journal picked out and it was on set.”

Sofia Vassilieva: “The journal is basically what Kate leaves behind for her family.”

Cameron Diaz: “It was Kate’s scrapbook that she was making for the family.”

Sofia Vassilieva: “With anybody, we always have a fear of being forgotten and left behind. Even though I think she knew that she had such an impact on these people and that they couldn’t forget her, she tried to leave everything she could. She tried to teach Anna all the lessons she could before she passed on, like kissing a boy and all those normal fears of a teenage girl. And, Kate’s journal was an extended version of that. It was this life that we’ve had together, the journeys that we’ve been on, the memories that we’ve created, that impacted Kate, so she wanted to leave that behind to those closest to her. We had a journal with some of our pictures in it.”

Cameron Diaz: “It was just a series of photos that we collected, over the period of the filming. Some were photo shoots that were set up for the younger stuff, when Jason [Patric] and I were supposed to be younger and pregnant, and the kids were younger. And then we did some stuff altogether and took some pictures on the set.”

Abigail Breslin: “The last day we did a whole photo shoot at the house. That was actually pretty fun. There was no dialogue.”

Cameron Diaz: “Oh, there was plenty of dialogue, it just wasn’t being recorded.”

Abigail Breslin: “That was really fun. It was the last day.”

Cameron Diaz: “And then the wonderful production team created it, built it and put it all together for us. Different artists contributed to it, to create Kate’s legacy.”

Sofia Vassilieva: “There was such detail to it. If you look at the pages, you notice one thing, and then, if you look at it again, you notice another, and everything is connected. Each page is its own story, from one corner to the next, even though it’s in pictures and drawings.”

Cameron Diaz: “It was built throughout the shooting of the film, and then we actually filmed the book later on, after we had wrapped the film. That’s our movie magic. I just gave it up. But, it was great.”

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August 13, 2009 - Posted by | 1

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