Rabbit Hole: Interview with writer David Lindsay-Abaire

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David Lindsay-Abaire is the writer of both the stage and film versions of "Rabbit Hole." The film, which stars Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, is being released by Lionsgate on December 17. 

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.”  

 

The roots of his fear

 

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.”  

 

Dialogue

 

In refining the dialogue for the screen, Lindsay-Abaire also made it a priority to bring the wry humor 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 humor 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.  

 

Finding the right director

 

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 fulfill 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 humor 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.”