Mary Jane Skalski (Producer - 'Station Agent')
’No Plain Jane, Just Train Fame’
When his friend and coworker suddenly dies, train enthusiast Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage) inherits an abandoned railway station in rural New Jersey. A dwarf who avoids social contact whenever possible, Fin treks out to the property and moves in. However, his newly isolated life is disrupted by Joe (Bobby Cannavale), the outgoing operator of a roadside refreshment stand, and Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), a reclusive artist who is grieving the loss of her son. As Joe and Olivia slowly bring Fin out of his shell, all three people are affected by their newfound friendships.
Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy and produced by Mary Jane Skalski, 'The Station Agent' wonderfully mixes drama and comedy in a beautiful countryside setting. Although the storyline acknowledges that the main character is a dwarf and refers to this on numerous occasions, there is much more to the character of Fin McBride than his short stature.
Taking some time out recently with producer Mary Jane Skalski, I first wondered if having such an eclectic cast for this project, whether it be race or height, caused any problems or external issues in getting this film to the big screen? ”Oh yeah, I mean people said to us ‘Do you have to use a dwarf? Couldn’t he be just sort of a short guy?!’ And people saw the Joey role that Bobby Cannavale played and said ‘Why don’t you go and ask for a really big name for that role?’ Yeah, so there was an awful lot of pressure to bend in some way or another. It’s really such a battle to say that you’re gonna make a movie and it’s gonna star a dwarf!”
But you quickly get over the fact that Fin’s a dwarf as the story unfolds ”Yeah, I would hope so. I mean, sure it’s the most remarkable thing about Peter Dinklage [Fin] , but it’s not really the most unremarkable thing about Fin the character either! But it’s the first thing you see as a visual and so it’s the first thing you’re gonna see about him.”
With this film being so methodically slow for the most part, I was wondering what audience you had in mind to aim for and if the mainstream demographic would be able to accept such a work into their ADD lives?! ”Well, after all these years now, I’ve finally given up trying to figure out the audiences,” she laughs. ”I mean, I worked with Ang Lee the Director for a long time and Ang always played to the point of view of the audience. So, trying to read an audience is always in the back of my mind, but trying to predict how an audience is gonna react, well, I have no idea! But yeah, not a lot happens in the film. You really watch as three people become friends, so nothing explodes and nobody gets killed! I think the movie’s funnier on film than it was in the script,” she slyly laughs again.
What did winning the Audience and also Screenwriting Awards at this years Sundance do for the prospects of this film? ”I don’t know. The Audience Award at Sundance has been a pretty good barometer of commercial success though. But, I guess we'll see.”
Was such an abrupt ending to the film always in your plans … or will the DVD show us more?! ”No, there’s no more,” she laughs. ”There’s no more to show, but yeah it would have been nice if that scene could have gone on for a little bit longer. But, when we were cutting the film together, it was obvious that it just couldn’t. The whole thing is about these three people coming together and it just seemed very natural that it needed to end on the three of them together talking about things that are a little bit more personal, but not heavy. It’s a lighthearted conversation, but it’s the kind of conversation you couldn’t really have with people that you’re not interested in. So, that felt like the right place to end it.”
Could there be a sequel to this movie then? ”Yeah, somebody said that at Sundance. They actually said we had a great TV series here.” she smiles. ”But, I don’t know if there’s a part two of it out there."
Was there a scene in the script that when it came time to film became more difficult than first envisioned? ”The train. Shooting railroads, well, there’s a lot of waiting involved and for a low budget film, that’s difficult. I mean, the fact of how we were going to get these trains in the film and how we were gonna work scenes around trains that sometimes came out of nowhere! So, that was like probably the most difficult statistical hurdle, but it worked out. But, I think the history of all film production is that you wake up in the morning and you think it’s possible and somehow, later that day, it got done!”
Any behind-the-scenes secrets to spill?! ’Well, the train that we chased, we kinda ordered that train,” she shyly laughs. ”Because, what we found is that freight runs on a very loose schedule. So we got through to dispatch and we’d call them up and they would tell us when certain freight trains were ‘due’ to arrive in our area! And then they’d tell us just to wave them down, tell them what we’re trying to do and then film! And there would be these really young crews on the train and we’d offer them something for their time and they’d be like, ‘Yeah, got any Pepsi’?! So, the night train that we shoot at night, well, that train cost us a 6-pack of Pepsi!”
Could this movie have been called anything else? ”You know, it was always, always called ‘The Station Agent,’ but we always joked about calling it ‘Choo Choo’,” she gently laughs again. ”I think a few months ago we actually thought of some other titles, but I can’t remember them now. But, we didn’t get attached to them like we did for ‘The Station Agent’.”
What new projects are you currently working on? "Right now, it’s a version of Macbeth. We have just started to talk about it, but there’s another Macbeth out there also thinking about shooting in Scotland. But, the scripts finished, but we’re not looking to shoot it for another year from now.”
Finally, being that your forenames are both widely renowned as slang for the word marijuana, I’m wondering what affect this has had on your upbringing! ”Yeah, it’s funny ‘cause everybody thinks that my parents were hippies or something! But, in fact, my mother named me after the candy,” she laughs. ”Yeah, my mother thought that that was kinda cute!”
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
The Station Agent Website
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