Adriana Trigiani, director and screenplay writer of the film, Big Stone Gap, was in Chicago to promote the film. I interviewed her by phone and found her to be passionate about her work and her cast. This is a highly personal film for Trigiani, as it depicts her hometown of Big Stone Gap in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia. Originally, the written form of her Big Stone Gap tale began as a screenplay. That screenplay was cast aside and became a best-selling novel that garnered three more books that further developed the characters in the town.
The 2015 screenplay of Big Stone Gap incorporates all of Trigiani’s novels based on the first book of the same name, followed by the three sequels: Big Cherry Holler, Milk Glass Moon, and Home to Big Stone Gap. The film’s setting is the year 1978. As the film opens, we hear a whistle blow while viewing coal miners walking home from their jobs deep in the Appalachian Mountains. Ave Maria Mulligan (Ashley Judd), a pharmacist, is single and nearing forty. She delivers the prescriptions to her customers herself and directs the town’s annual outdoor play. Her life takes a turn when she discovers a long-buried family secret.
Patrick Wilson plays coal miner Jack MacChesney, while his friend since childhood, Ave Maria, grows to be his love interest. Wilson has a personal connection to Big Stone Gap, as his father’s family goes back many generations in town. There’s even a bridge that’s named after his grandfather.
Other supporting cast include Fleeta (Whoopi Goldberg), a sassy employee of the pharmacy, Iva Lou (Jenna Elfman), the energetic mobile librarian, Theodore (John Benjamin Hickey), a closeted suitor, Spec (Anthony LaPaglia), an all-around good-guy lawyer, and the ultra-sensual Sweet Sue (Jane Krakowski).
Here’s part of our interview:
Sarah Knight Adamson: First, I’d like to congratulate you on joining the ranks of women screenplay writers and directors. We need more women, that’s for sure. I loved your film!
Adriana Trigiani: I’m so thrilled that you feel that way! I’m with you 100%!
SKA: Could you please tell me about your brave decision to direct the film yourself? Did you always intend to do so?
AT: Well, it was because I’m a dramatist, a playwright, and I always found that when I wrote a play, I put it on its feet right away with actors. It was a concurrent thing with me. It was always directed. Usually, a playwright partners with a director, and it was just always one in the same for me.
When you add the cameras in, you discover that’s something that appeals to you. The way the world looks, that aesthetic quality, the composition of light, form, and line. Of course, the important element of that is to illuminate the human soul that really is the point.
Something else you should know about me is that I’m a pile driver. When I make up my mind, I’m focused and don’t take no for an answer.
SKA: The film has so many wonderful elements. To me, it appears to be a love letter to Big Stone Gap and the people…similar to Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. How did it feel while you were there to create something that would be so meaningful to so many?
AT: Well, thank you, that’s such a great comparison! And yes, it is my love letter to Big Stone Gap. I felt so honored and happy to be back in my hometown making this movie. It really was thrilling.
SKA: Ashley Judd; what does she bring to your film other than the quintessential southern belle?
AT: Well, Ashley Judd could play anything, so the fact that she grew up in Eastern Kentucky was a bonus, but this is an actor that is intellectually gifted, physically gifted, has an incredible technique and focus as a performer. Her preparation is something to marvel at and I think we worked so well together because I’m just like her…
SKA: Oh my goodness.
AT: Being ready to work. She knows how to do that; she had to because she’s in every scene of the movie and it’s twenty days and every ounce of her energy was used in the movie and she knew how to channel that. She’s simply one of our great American talents; I mean, she just is.
SKA: I totally agree with you.
AT: She can do anything.
SKA: I’ll see anything she’s in, honestly. Patrick Wilson; I had no idea that he’s actually from Big Stone Gap.
AT: His roots are in Big Stone Gap; his father is one of our really celebrated native sons.
SKA: Oh, I just love it and there’s a bridge named after his grandfather. How cool is that?
AT: Yes, yes. The bridge over Wilson Road in the valley. What was so crazy is that we chose a house right across from it, which became his home in the film.
SKA: I believe Patrick’s wife was in the movie and his children.
AT: Dagmara Dominczyk played Elizabeth Taylor and she’s stupendous. You know she’s also a novelist?
SKA: No, I did not know that.
AT: You’ve got to read Lullaby of a Polish Girl. She’s phenomenal and she’s got another novel coming out, but she’s a great actor. She’s in a play right now at the Signature Theater in New York.
AT: She also just added such a luster as Elizabeth Taylor. She played that so real because this is a real event that happened and she was just biographically right and those are her sons of Patrick [Wilson].
SKA: Yes, she was.
AT: Anthony La Paglia; you can’t beat him and my brother Tony. He’s amazing.
AT: John Benjamin Hickey from the Broadway stage is in film. He’s amazing.
AT: Whoopi Goldberg. No one should make a movie without her.
SKA: That was my next question; what did she bring to the set, other than the life of the party?
AT: A glittering, gleaming, soul of generosity and magnificence and the greatest comedy chops, ever, of our time.
SKA: How fantastic. The film takes place, as we know, in in 1978 and I always enjoy films that are made in the seventies. I have to compliment you on your costuming.
AT: That’s Deborah McGuire. She’s the great costume designer that usually works on big studio movies. She’s very famous for being the costume designer on Friends, the television series.
AT: I met her on the Dolly Parton show Heavens to Betsy. She was Dolly Parton’s costume designer for years and she did this vintage-inspired pallet and what I loved about Ashley’s costumes was that in every scene, her costumes were based on a great character from literature.
SKA: Oh wonderful.
AT: At the gravesite, she was Holly Go Lightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She was Elizabeth Bennett in the Holly Harp gown on the first date and in the last scene of the movie in the red dress, she becomes June Doliver from the outdoor drama play.
SKA: Oh, good, great. Thank you for enlightening us in that.
AT: You remember the knee socks and the blue bow?
That’s Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.
SKA: Oh my goodness.
AT: She’s already home.
SKA: What message would you like audience to take away from your film?
AT: Here’s the message, if you’re stuck in your life, this movie will give you hope. It’s never too late. As the great Yogi Bear said, “It ain’t over till it’s over; keep pushing.” This is what this movie is about. It gives you hope.
SKA: Thank you. Is there anything else you’d like to say about Big Stone Gap?
AT: What an honor it is to even have gotten the opportunity to make it, to make it in Big Stone Gap, and imagine how thrilled I am to be talking to you about it. It’s a big honor and I thank you, Sarah.
SKA: I thank you so much for chatting with me. Congratulations on the film and best of luck with it.
Sarah Knight Adamson ©October 13, 2015