Lajos Koltai has worked as a cinematographer with some of cinema’s foremost directors, including Istvan Szabo (“Being Julia”) and Luis Mandoki (“White Palace”). He was behind the camera when Jodie Foster directed “Home For the Holidays,” but it wasn’t until 2005 when Koltai debuted as director with “Fateless,” which garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film.
Koltai, who’s from Hungary, was one of the first generation of cinema artists that left Eastern Europe for the West to pursue a successful Hollywood career when the Iron Curtain came down.
“You can say that in my own way, I lived the American Dream,” laughs Koltai. “But I like my current position — spending my time flying back and forth between Europe and the United States. Work and travel has become so much easier than when I first started in the business.”
For “Evening,” Koltai assembled a cast of some of the finest actresses in the United States and Britain, many of whom happen to be related or are best friends. Vanessa Redgrave and daughter Natasha Richardson, Meryl Streep and daughter Maime Gummer, Redgrave’s best friend Eileen Atkins, and Glenn Close, who is a longtime friend of Redgrave, Atkins and Close.
Koltai says he enjoyed the family-like atmosphere on the set. “Everyone kept saying this didn’t feel like work at all but a family reunion. It was all so full of love, which is how I wanted it . . . very good for the film, you know. When the shooting was done, no one wanted to leave.”
Who came up with the idea of casting actual mothers and daughters?
I did, but I didn’t think it was going to happen. Just getting Meryl Streep or Vanessa Redgrave would have been nearly impossible, but getting them both together, and then their respective daughters . . . the logistics were daunting. I didn’t think it could be done, but things worked out, miraculously.
As a cinematographer-cum-director, how do you hold auditions?
I always start with a camera test. Because that’s how I tend to think and observe — through a camera lens. I ask the actor/actress to go through a very short scene, and I record them on camera and usually we look at the result together. It’s good, because this way the person acting could get a feeling about the part and whether they’re really suited for it or not. I know some big actors will take offense if you ask them for a camera test, but that’s how I work. And for this movie, no one refused!
This is very much a woman’s movie. What men there are, they’re kind of ineffectual. Is that what you aimed for?
I don’t think they’re ineffectual, it’s just that in this story and in life in general, women tend to be stronger than men. I have a lot of sympathy for the character of Buddy. He didn’t know what he wanted, apart from a vague idea that he wanted everybody — his sister, Anne, (and) Harris. He was like a character in a Greek play, running headlong to his own destruction. Hugh Dancy (as Buddy) did a wonderful job portraying all that. He comes into the frame and it’s like a streak of red running across a palette of all pastels.(Kaori Shoji)