Interview: Robert Benton
by Scott Holleran
Robert Benton
October 5, 2007

At a coastal hotel lobby during a recent visit to southern California, writer and director Robert Benton (Kramer Vs. Kramer, Nobody's Fool, The Human Stain) talked with Box Office Mojo about his new picture, the romantic ensemble piece Feast of Love, featuring Morgan Freeman, Greg Kinnear and Jane Alexander.

Mr. Benton, interviewed before the movie opened, discussed certain scenes, the cast and his thoughts on love—which also figures into what may be his next movie.

Box Office Mojo: Does Feast of Love capture your philosophy of love?

Robert Benton: That's a very good question. A long time ago, someone said to me, "you do work for several different reasons," one of which is that you have something you want to say that you want other people to hear. The other reason is that you're looking for something you don't know and you're trying to find out what it is. I would put this movie into that category; it is an exploration of something—and the movie may reveal this—that I don't fully understand. I'm fascinated by that complicated thing that is love. In all of my films, if there's been a thread, it is about the family as an extension of community—this is about a community that sort of forms themselves. They will change and morph and disappear in time. For this one period of time, this is a family, this is a community.

Box Office Mojo: Is that an extension of the self-made man to the idea of family?

Robert Benton: It is exactly that—it goes back to the self-made man. This is the God-given family, or, the family you don't set out consciously to find that you stumble upon along the way—a family that can save your life.

Box Office Mojo: These characters don't merely stumble by accident; they make choices. Morgan Freeman's character, Harry, chooses whether to accept the character played by Alexa Davalos.

Morgan Freeman and Greg Kinnear in Feast of Love
Robert Benton: Yes, [he has to] to accept life or reject life and it's very hard to do because he's set himself ideologically, emotionally, on a path of rejecting life—of shutting down, of beginning to choose death. I have lived long enough that I've seen friends of mine who have begun that process and it's nothing they're aware of. If there is a theme, it's the huge power of life to reexert itself. Bradley [Greg Kinnear's character] is a good example. Love is Bradley's addiction—and it's great about him—it's far from a failing, which it seems to be for a long time, because he's not getting any wiser. His need to love overpowers his judgment about who to love. Life sort of takes care of that for him. I think he knew how to love but he didn't know how to be loved—he thought if he loved, it was enough and that he could love [enough] for both sides. Finally, he found someone who loves him. It's [author Charles] Baxter's line from the book: "Finally, Bradley found somebody who loved him as much as he loved them."

Box Office Mojo:—which Margit as much as says to him while they're dancing.

Robert Benton: Yes.

Box Office Mojo: How do you define love?

Robert Benton: Love can be desire, it can be need. But love is the ability to not be at the center of your own universe—that you don't live in a bare and chilly world, that you are bound to other humans.

Box Office Mojo: Bound by what?

Robert Benton: I'm suspiciously religious about it. I think there is something inherently religious within that book, whether it's conscious on his part or not. But I see religion as a personal exploration of one's relationship to the world and to oneself and it is constantly up for grabs.

Box Office Mojo: Feast of Love is optimistic, but it is different than, say, Nobody's Fool, which is also somewhat optimistic but centrally Sully's [Paul Newman's character's] story. This is about being interconnected.

Robert Benton: Nobody's Fool is about someone who didn't understand himself; he spent the movie finding out he was more valuable than he thought he was in the beginning. It's his story. In Feast of Love, it's not just Harry's story.

Box Office Mojo: Did you deliberately put the music in the background?

Robert Benton: The music always had to be there—we needed contemporary songs. A lot of that is Andy Mondshein, the editor. He has a very deft ear for music. I had talked with him and I had never met him but he was always on the list of people I wanted to work with. It was also [producer] Tom Rosenberg, who always wanted to be able to hear the dialog. That was very important to him.

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