John Lithgow and Blythe Danner play septuagenarian oddballs who fall for each other in “The Tomorrow Man,” written and directed by Noble Jones. These small-town eccentrics live in an unnamed part of the American Midwestern-heartland, and possibly the site of a foreseeable doomsday scenario. But at heart “The Tomorrow Man” is a gentle love story, and the fun comes from watching actors at the top of their gameplay the wonkiest couple imaginable in hilariously awkward courtship scenes.
Lithgow plays Ed Hemsler, an apocalypse-obsessed retired who spends his time dispensing advice on survivalist techniques to strangers in online forums. The rest of the time he’s grocery shopping to stockpile the secret fallout shelter in his backyard. On one of his daily grocery shopping trips, he spies Ronnie (Danner), who’s around his age, and intrigued by the contents of her cart — imagining her excursions are for the same purpose as his — he stalks her to the parking lot where he asks her out for coffee or dinner.
Ed has no game. His pick up line? “Like pie? Guy’s Grill, we maybe could go to dinner and finish up with a couple of slices, apple, peach.” He does all the talking, nattering about his previous occupation as Ronnie stares wide-eyed, doleful and intrigued. Says Ed, “I started with ball bearings, I did systems analyses, basically quality control. You have no idea how screwed up the world would be if it weren’t for ball bearings.” When he finally asks Ronnie about herself, she reveals the tragedy at the center of her life that’s inspired her own secret compulsion.
From then Ed and Ronnie begin to date and things go pretty well; his compulsive, cantankerous personality and her ditzy, kindly manner complement each other and soon they’re a couple. And yes there’s sex.
At a SAG-AFTRA Foundation screening of The Tomorrow Man, Monday evening at the Robin Williams Center stars John Lithgow and Blythe Danner and director/writer/DP Noble Jones turned up to talk to the press and stayed to watch the film and laugh along with the audience. (The afterparty was at the elegant Feinstein’s across the street.)
We caught with some of the cast on the red carpet, check out our interviews after the jump.
Wearing a pink pantsuit and her hair in a loose blond cloud, Blythe Danner looked elegant, gorgeous and much younger than the character she played on screen.
The Knockturnal: Danner’s movie roles have become even richer and three-dimensional as she’s reached her 70’s and it’s been fun to watch I told her.
Blythe Danner: I know, I’ve been lucky in doing quite a few of those lately. An Alzheimer’s woman last season (“What They Had”), and then before that a love story, “I See You in My Dreams.”
The Knockturnal: What attracted you to the role of Ronnie and to working with a first-time director?
Blythe Danner: I always wanted to work with John. And so that was perfect. I said, ‘I don’t even want to read it, I just want to work with John.’ Then, of course, I did. It is a romance, we’re both in our seventies, and we’re both play fascinating, eccentric characters. Then I met Noble Jones. He’s a lovely, lovely soul.
The Knockturnal: What was key to finding your way into the character of Ronnie?
Blythe Danner: I tapped into how she suffered terrible grief and hid behind it, you know, so she was mournful but a fighter. She was just so complicated and three dimensional and even funny. I was immediately intrigued by the fact that this woman was somebody I haven’t played before.
John Lithgow, who is charming and extremely tall — about 6’4” — is known for his range; he’s played historical figures like the late-life Winston Churchill as well as cold-blooded killers like his Emmy-winning turn in Dexter.
The Knockturnal: You’re finally in a romantic role and having sex. Is that what you found appealing about the role?
John Lithgow: Well, the role was wonderfully quirky and eccentric and I sort of got the character. He was very well written. But I think what captivated me most, very much what you just said, it was an undiscovered story. You don’t see people fall in love at that age and yet they do. And also, the storytelling is wonderful. There are about five or six unfolding surprises. You learn about these people as the story goes along and they learn about each other in the most surprising way. I found it very unusual. There has never been an ending like that.
The Knockturnal: I was surprised to read you’d never made a movie with Blythe before.
John Lithgow: Never, no, nor on stage. But we knew each other way back in the 70s and I knew her husband. I even knew her daughter, Gwyneth when she was about six, seven years old. So we go way back… (They almost worked together on Broadway in Harold Pinter’s ‘Betrayal’ in 1980.) “I turned it down because I had committed to do a friend’s play Off-Broadway, which ended up being a flop and ‘Betrayal was a huge hit… I ate my heart out over that decision. But then I was available to do a three-week job in Los Angeles, during which time I met my wife of 38 years… (and as a result) a lot of hugging and kissing took place…”
The Knockturnal: You’ve done a one-man show and written a book where you say your father, who was in the theater, was your hero. What was the one piece of indispensable advice he gave you?
John Lithgow: He didn’t hold forth, he didn’t give lots of advice. He was mainly my teacher by example. He just had this tremendous passion for theater, for Shakespeare and for the imagination. He produced every single one of Shakespeare’s plays on bare stages. Nothing but actors and words and that has always stayed with me like the biggest lesson of all.
The Knockturnal: Sorry to have a one-track mind, but what was it like doing the sex scenes with Blythe?
John Lithgow: It was hopelessly awkward as sex scenes always are but in particular when it was… It was supposed to be hopelessly awkward. We were pretending and we were being hopelessly awkward.
The Knockturnal: And in between scenes, what did you talk about?
John Lithgow: Just non-stop talking about 1970’s theater in New York. We had so many mutual friends, so many hilarious stories. We were never buddies in theater but we had a great time.
The Knockturnal: You’re tackling the role of Roger Ailes next, right. You’ll be perfect to play him.
John Lithgow: Well, I choose to take that as a compliment.
The Knockturnal: You’re better looking of course. What can you say about what we can expect in your portrayal?
John Lithgow: I’ll talk to you about that when it comes out.
Next, we caught up with the talented Director and Writer (and DP) Noble Jones
The Knockturnal: Would you describe this mainly as a love story or a sci-fi apocalypse film?
Noble Jones: This has come up a few times but the term ‘apocalypse’ is never mentioned once (in the film), so I don’t know why everyone jumps to that conclusion, but I would call it a love story.
The Knockturnal: The ending of the film is quite shocking and startling.
Noble Jones: And I want you to be able to keep that to yourself.
The Knockturnal: Okay, I will.
Noble Jones: But it doesn’t mean what it seems, necessarily. In other words, life goes on, and really ultimately the point is that with love, ultimately the whole storm can be weathered.
The Knockturnal: By the way your name is unusual. How did you get that name?
Noble Jones: My father’s name. His name is Noble Lincoln Jones… They had a lot of plans for me.
The Knockturnal: What have you learned are the qualities that served you best as a first-time director?
Noble Jones: Yeah, but I’ve been making films for quite a bit, in a variety of lengths. You have to be able to listen. Listen and watch. That’s the thing. You have to have the ability to just watch, and be curious.
The Knockturnal: Was it daunting to work with such legends as Blythe and John?
Noble Jones: No. From the beginning, they made it very easy for me. They enjoyed working together, and they made the process very enjoyable to me, and we were just very fortunate throughout. I think there was some difficulties at times with other films, but this one just came together, the stars just sort of aligned. I think everyone just smiled and got up every day and looked forward to it. I don’t think we really had a bad day. I think it rained once, for about twenty minutes.
The Knockturnal: What did you learn about yourself as a filmmaker making this movie?
Noble Jones: That I could persevere, and I was very resilient. That’s really it, though. An old friend saw it, and he said that he didn’t really know me after all these years, having just seen the film. So it’s probably more sensitive, if that’s the right side, to me that he might not have seen in the past.
Words and Top John Lithgow Photo By Paula Schwartz
Other photos Dave Alloca / StarPix
The Tomorrow Man opens May 22nd – at the Angelika, the Landmark 57 West, in LA and around the country.