Radha Mitchell: Queen of Love

As written by Allison Burnett and directed by Robert Benton, “Feast of Love” is kind of a mixed bag, as rom-com ensemble films tend to be (see also: “Playing by Heart”, “Love Actually”, etc.). Still, Radha Mitchell gives a truly great performance in it, so I jumped on the opportunity to talk to her over the phone about it.

“Bonjour, ça va?”

Oui, ça va! Vous parlez français?
“No, just “bonjour” and “ça va”… Let’s do it in English!”

Ok! So where are you calling from?
“From Los Angeles.”

Do you still go back to Australia a bit?
“I actually live here, but I do go back. So I’ll be back there at Christmastime, to see the folks… And I actually shot a film there recently. It’s an Australian film called “Rogue”, I think it’s coming out here in October.”

About “Feast of Love”, I —
“Where are you from?”

I’m from Montreal.
“Yeah? I have to go to Montreal, I’ve never been.”

Oh you should, it’s a great city.
“So, the question…”

Right. In “Feast of Love”, there’s a debate going on about whether love is just “nature’s trick to bring more screaming babies into this world” or if it’s “everything, the only meaning in this crazy dream”. What side would you say you are more partial to?
“Is it just a biological drive, or does it exist on a spiritual level… I think both. Contemporary culture would have you believe that sex is the most important thing in the world, but that sort of nihilistic view devoid of any sense of love or compassion is not particularly fulfilling. So I would say that love is the thing that we crave. Perhaps physical passion is what drives us, at least initially, but maybe we’re really confused and what we really really really want is love.”

So you do believe in romance and true love?
“I don’t believe that there’s only one true love, ultimately your relationship is with yourself. But when you choose to commit with somebody and spend your life with them, I think that’s one of the most beautiful things.”

I also found interesting the saying in the film about how the gods were bored so they invented love, then they invented laughter so they could stand it. Do you agree with that too?
“Yes! We get very entangled in our passions and they seem so serious to us, and it’s so interesting having this narrator who’s more experienced and has lived longer than most of the characters in this story, because he’s seen it all before. There’s so much of it that we do or that we think is important that has been done before and will happen again, it just kind of repeats itself in a cycle of life through the generations. It is funny if you can sort of sit back and look at it, while you’re in the crisis or whatever it is that you think is breaking your heart. That gives you some kind of perspective, in order to live with this, I guess.”

Regarding movies in particular, do you think that love stories should be dramas or comedies?
“I got this question a lot when I did this Woody Allen movie that was half tragedy, half comedy… There’s a part of me that feels much more engaged in the dramatic version of life. Laughing at it is much easier to tolerate but somehow, without taking it as seriously, it seems to mean less. Personally, at this stage in my life, I like the drama.”

Ok, so you saw my follow-up question coming about “Melinda and Melinda”, which is one of my favorite movies of the last few years, I thought you were amazing in it and–
“Oh, thank you!”

I thought that in “Feast of Love”, there’s some kind of connection with that performance. In the scenes with Greg Kinnear, it’s more light and comedic, but then your character has this darker, self-destructive affair with a married man.
“That’s interesting… I hadn’t put it in my mind that way, but I had felt that the character’s connection to Greg Kinnear’s character was in that lightness, what she liked about him was his innocence and that was what attracted her to him, that she could find her own innocence through him in a way. The other relationship was sort of, yeah, you know, self-destructive, intense, passionate kind of thing, like a compulsion. It was more serious in a way, and in some ways, more who she intrinsically was.”

It’s a very complex character. She says at some point that she has impossibly high standards and that she’s down to looking for an absence of disqualifiers —
“Well, she’s become, I think, perhaps because of in some ways being unfulfilled, she has developed a cynical edge… There may be something that you really want, but it might appear to be bad to you, so you try to pick a more kind of even road and it feels somewhat like a compromise. Ultimately, you kind of have to follow your nature: if you’re an intense, crazy person, that’s just what you’re gonna have to be.”

You must not have problems like that in your own life, you’re the Queen of love, after all! [Ed. Note – Radha means “Queen of love” in Hindi.]
“(laughs) Exactly! I’m definitely an advocate of love, it wouldn’t be in my nature to just marry somebody for security.”

But do you think your name has an influence on your life, or it’s just something that was picked for you by your parents?
“Well, I actually picked it myself when I was a kid!”

You did?
“Yeah, I changed it, but that’s a long story… What was I gonna say? I’m sure it does have an influence in your life, I’m hoping it’s a positive one. What’s your name?”

Kevin.
“What does that mean?”

It’s American. American names don’t mean shit.
“(laughs) It must have some kind of meaning! You should look it up… It may answer some questions. (laughs)”

Another thing that I found surprising in the film is the amount of nudity. Usually, Hollywood movies are more —
“Modest. Yeah, I don’t know if they were necessary, they were certainly interesting… And I do think in one scene, the scene where we break up, it works really well in that you see two people in the bedroom as they would be in the bedroom, no one’s hiding under the sheets. This is reality, and I think that creates a sense of vulnerability, having us both in that state intensifies the scene on some level. Also, there’s a truth to it. It was something that we agreed to experiment with. It did feel uncomfortable, but it also was kind of liberating in a way. You kind of use your clothes as a mask in a way, and if they’re not there, that’s just you, you know?”

What about this being an ensemble piece, how do you approach having all those other storylines beyond your character’s?
“Everyone has their own story, and each story expresses some different aspect of the theme, which is love and communication. There’s a story of youthful, idealistic vision of life, then there’s the thirties kind of complexity and all the anxiety that goes with taking responsibility for taking lifelong choices and having some sense of what that means, and then there’s a story of being abandoned, and then there’s a story of being with somebody with so long, and the deep kind of friendship that occurs in a relationship of 50 years. So you’re given the complete menu for the Feast of Love.”

Thanks for wrapping this up so neatly!

At this point, we’re interrupted by a publicist who tells me that I have time for one last question so, geeky little boy that I am, I ask Mitchell if she intends to make more genre flicks like “Silent Hill” and “Pitch Black”:

“To be honest, I quite like sci-fi and horror and sort of the fantasy aspect of those kinds of movies, but my heart is more with films within the naturalist tone, that are exploring relationships or humanity and concepts like that. That’s closer to me, but it is fun to imagine things, to create a story that could only come to life in a movie.”