The stars, director, and composer tell the inside story.
At the premiere of world-renowned producer James Schamus’ directorial debut of his film Indignation, based on the Philip Roth novel of the same name, we were able to catch up with the film’s cast and the director himself on the red carpet. First, we had a chance to talk to Ben Rosenfield, Noah Robbins, and Pico Alexander who each play one of Logan Lerman’s fellow students at Winesburg College in the film. They talked to us about their group dynamics and the their preparation for the film.
I heard that you read the novel prior to filming. How do you think the film compares in terms of tone and atmosphere?
Ben Rosenfield: Really brilliantly. It’s both realistic and dreamlike. I think the book is like that. Harshly realistic and dreamlike. And I think the film is that same way.
What was it like to get into a vintage role and channel an earlier time?
Rosenfield: I try and let the costumes do a lot of that for me. We had a great costume designer on this movie, Amy Roth, who really helped me put together clothes that could express a lot of that stuff without me having to say it or indicate it.
Talk to me about your character. How is he like and unlike you?
Noah Robbins: Well he is the less attractive, less tall version of another guy in this movie. So I very much relate to that. He breaks the rules a little bit, he’s not totally moral in some ways, so he’s unlike me. I try to be a good person. He’s very susceptible to peer pressure, so I’m similar to that.
Who is it who he feels like he’s a shorter, less attractive version of?
Robbins: Pico Alexander is the actor’s name. It’s pretty clear. I play, basically, a sidekick, at the end of the day. Which is fun! It’s fun to play off of someone.
Noah just described himself as playing your sidekick. How do you feel about that?
Pico Alexander: Sure, I’ll take it. I’d rather take that we work hand in hand. I suppose the official title, yeah I’m the president and he’s not. I’m going in to recruit, he takes care of logistics. We’re sort of good cop, bad cop, two-pronged approach to recruiting young freshmen Jews to our frat.
How do you relate to your character?
Alexander: I think I like to win. And I want people who are interesting to like me. When people play hard to get, it makes me that much more interested.
And your character’s like that?
Alexander: Well yeah, he tries to recruit young Logan’s character and it’s not so easy at the get-go. So he sort of redoubles his efforts and he keeps going.
After talking to the boys, we had a chance to interview Danny Burstein, the star of Broadway’s venerable classic Fiddler on the Roof, and the actor who plays Lerman’s father in the film. We were also lucky enough to get the scoop on the film’s phenomenal soundtrack from composer Jay Wadley.
How did you first get involved in the film?
Danny Burstein: Well I was playing Cabaret on Broadway with Linda Emond, we were playing a couple. And James Schamus came to see Cabaret and he thought the two of us would work well in his film. But he said, ‘first here look, read the script, I hope you’ll like it, and then come in and we’ll talk about it’. You know, I’m constantly sent scripts for theater and TV and films and you read them and usually around page six you go, ‘oh god’. I looked up from the script at page ninety-seven. And I remember that number because it never happens. The film script was so beautifully written and so engrossing, the story was amazing, and I just knew I had to do it. I went and met him with and basically said, “I love the script! Please, I’d love to do it! Yes!” And he was of course, kind, and he wanted me, so it was an easy deal to work out.
Had you already read the novel?
Burstein: I have now, yeah. I hadn’t beforehand. I was actually going to read it and then I thought that I better wait. Naturally, when you adapt something from a novel, it’s going to be different. I didn’t want that to influence me in a negative way. I wanted to play the story as James wrote it, not as Philip Roth wrote it.
What do you think your character is like? Is he like you? Unlike you?
Burstein: Well he’s like me in the sense that he loves his sons. And I have two sons of my own who are 23 and 20. I would do anything for them. He’s in a situation where his son could be sent to war, could be drafted, the draft was on, unless he went to school. It’s a scary situation. And I could relate to that very easily because I love my kids so much.
Are there ways in which he’s unlike you?
Burstein: Well yeah, he’s a butcher. That’s very different.
That is quite a difference. Anything else going on right now?
Burstein: Yeah, I’m in a little show called Fiddler on the Roof and I was nominated for my sixth Tony award for it. So that’s what I’m doing.
And other than that?
Burstein: I just had a film open up called The Family Fang that Jason Bateman directed, and I had a couple of scenes with Nicole Kidman. So that just happened. Now this. Every month, something happens.
So tell me a little bit about how you got involved.
Jay Wadley: I guess James brought me in from pretty early on in the process to write the score. I had worked with James on a short before, so he brought me in on this. We collaborated pretty much from the get-go. From the time he was finishing up the script, I got to come in and watch throughout the process. Then we co-wrote a song together in the style of kind of a 1950’s love tune. So like Tony Bennet or Dinah Shore or something like that We had Jane Monheit sing it. It was an incredible experience working with him on that process and then actually hearing it come through the monitors – the first time it came through we were just completely struck with joy. It’s been a lovely process working with James. He’s brilliant.
Speak a little about your background in music and how you got into composing for film.
Wadley: Well my background is in classical music composition. I’m originally from Oklahoma and I went to undergrad there and then I went to Yale for grad school for classical music composition. All along the way I thought about getting into film and about getting into TV. I had started dipping my toes in and I’d done a few independent things and a few television things. I’d done some orchestrations for some pop artists like Rufus Wainwright and working my way through the pop process. And then ultimately I’ve been running a music production company for the past eight years as well as composing. This opportunity presented itself and it’s everything I could possible hope for really.
And what’s your production company called?
Wadley: It’s called Found Objects music Productions and we do original music for advertisements, film, television, we work with pop artists. So pretty much what I was doing all along, we just condensed and made it into a company.
Finally, after hearing all about how incredible he is from his talented cast, we got to talk to the man of the evening himself, director James Schamus. After talking to him, we learned even more about the film’s inception and creation from its two stars, Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon.
What interested you in making Indignation, of all novels, into a movie?
James Schamus: I’m a big Philip Roth fan, but I never thought many of his novels were that suitable for adaptation. But I read this novel – it’s a late novel, it’s his 29th – and I fell in love with the characters. To me, adapting for the screen, you start with the people. If you fall in love with the characters and you believe you can see them interacting and doing, then you’ve got a chance.
Were there any characters in particular who you resonated with?
Schamus: Well oddly I felt, and I mean this, everybody. Old folks, the secondary characters, and clearly I fell in love with this main character, Marcus Messner, because I know that nice Jewish boy.
So if you fell in love with characters first, did you already have any actors or actresses in mind for the cast?
Schamus: No, I try not to do that when I’m writing. I try to keep my mind blank. I must say, though this is a boring answer, these guys were my first choices. I’m so lucky they said yes. There was never a doubt in my mind that this was the cast that I wanted.
And has Philip Roth seen the film?
Schamus: He has, and it was a great relief, as you can imagine, when he liked it and he wrote a beautiful encomium about the film that my producer was able to read at our world premiere at Sundance. So we are apparently Philip Roth approved.
And how was it to have this project as your directorial debut?
Schamus: On the one hand, it was idiotically and stressfully ambitious because the emotions and the period. On the other hand, it felt very seamless. I had a great crew and they made it easy.
Tell me about what attracted you to this project.
Logan Lerman: The strength of James Schamus’ adaptation more than anything. The script as a whole really worked. I’ve been a huge fan of his for a long time. I was excited by the idea of collaborating with him and the script was great, the character was wonderful. All the characters were wonderfully rich and detailed.
Speak about the journey that he takes and what you connected with most.
Lerman: I guess I really responded to Marcus’s independent thinking and questioning of the world he was born into. I really respected that about my character, really responded to it. I loved the arguments that he raised throughout this film.
In terms of the period and preparing yourself, can you tell us about that?
Lerman: I had a lot of time. The luxury of time. I had about six months to explore many details of this story and it was a great experience to collaborate and work with James who just handed me so much research material. He had a wonderful team of people working around him so that whenever I had an interest in learning about whatever subculture or profession things happened quickly and we did a number of things to become comfortable with this story and find the best version of this film.
Sarah is such a wonderful actress, can you speak about playing against her?
Lerman: It was so wonderful to work with her. She’s a special person, a special talent. She really elevated the film and elevated my work ethic. She’s incredibly smart and has so much to bring to, not just her character, but to everyone’s character. I loved the conversations that we had throughout the experience of figuring out what movie we were trying to make. It was a great partnership and it made the movie work. It really did.
Talk to me about collaborating with James and what you admire in him as a filmmaker.
Sarah Gadon: I love how intelligent and thoughtful he is in how he approaches his work. He’s a professor, so he’s very well-researched, always. I loved researching with him and I love the work that he gave me to do and the references and the books that he told me to read. It was a really rich experience.
Speak a little about your character’s journey and getting in her head.
Gadon: I read a lot of Sylvia Plath, I read the Plath journals. That was kind of a good touchstone for me because it had that everyday minutiae of a female college student at the time. Music was another kind of thing – it’s funny how innocent the music of the 50’s is and I’d always associated Elvis Presley and all those things, but it was really much later in the decade. It was a lot of Perry Como. So yeah, just a lot of different things.
And talk to me about developing your relationship with Logan.
Gadon: Marcus and Olivia have an extremely tense relationship in the book. I knew from the moment that I met him that he would embody Marcus Messner in a very real, grounded way. So I was just excited to work with him and we got a long really well. We had a lot of time during pre-production to go and see plays and get to know each other, which I think really helped us because we have to be so vulnerable on-screen.