Interview: Jennifer Aniston works through her character’s pain in ‘Cake’
When Jennifer Aniston was making the publicity rounds last fall for “Horrible Bosses 2,” in which she reintroduced her sex-starved, potty-mouthed character Dr. Julia Harris, she spoke briefly about playing the outrageous comedy in that film versus the serious role in “Cake,” which is being released this week. She suggested that comedy accesses one part of her brain, and drama accesses another.
“There’s comedy in drama,” she said, “and there’s drama in comedy. I don’t find the two exclusive from one another.”
“Cake” is a straightforward drama, with some underpinnings of very dark humor. But there’s nothing funny about the situation of Aniston’s character, Claire Bennett, an angry, frustrated woman who’s dealing with severe chronic pain as the result of a terrible accident.
It’s a startlingly different role for Aniston, who was nominated for a Golden Globe but was overlooked by the Oscar crowd. Too bad about that, as it’s her best screen work to date. She spoke about the film at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Q. How is this role different from anything else you’ve done?
A. Well, it’s the farthest thing from anything I’ve ever done. When I read the script, I knew this would be an extraordinary challenge for me. I was so excited and so ready to just dive right in and take it on. And it was everything I hoped for as an actor, being given this opportunity.
Q. Claire is dealing with awful pain as well as personal grief. What was your view of her?
A. I love Claire. I really do. I thought she was a beautiful, tortured, layered character. And I felt such extreme empathy for her and what she was struggling with, and the journey that she takes and forges through.
Q. You turned in quite a physical performance. How did you prepare for it?
A. I did a lot of homework. I have two girlfriends who have suffered from chronic pain, and one dear friend who is a stuntwoman who suffered a severe accident and became addicted to pain meds.
So I would ask about their physicality, and I talked to different doctors and psychopharmacologists. It was important for me to be true to what the medicine I was taking would do to my body, and at what point.
That was one of my biggest challenges. We were shooting out of order, so I kept a ledger of where I was in my pain management. Because she was always physically in pain, but at different degrees.
Q. Claire doesn’t wear any makeup, her hair is often a mess, and she’s kind of frumpy. Did you have any anxiety about looking the way you look in the film?
A. I loved every minute of it. It was extremely liberating to do that. As women, we do feel we have to live up to an expectation, whether it’s on camera or going to the market or whatever. The truth of the matter is that’s not the way it is.
We don’t always our high heels on, we don’t always do our hair and makeup. And this character is someone who had basically just given up on even waking up sometimes. So that’s what it required, and that’s how I approached it.
Q. Was it hard to switch off the character and her problems when you went home each day?
A. There was not a lot of home time. It was going home, going to sleep, waking up, going back to work. We pretty much lived and breathed these people for the five weeks we were doing it, and I let myself kind of fall apart physically. But I did have to have some treatments on the weekends because I would have pinched nerves and things like that from the physicality of the part.
Q. Did playing this character make you appreciate some of the smaller things in your life?
A. I’m grateful for the smaller things in my life every day. But to be able to portray this woman, who I would hope would speak for all humans ever experiencing traumatic loss or pain, was extremely challenging and extremely humbling.
We know that there are people like her out there. So playing someone who lives in that body and imagining really having to live in it, you so appreciate the fact that you can get up, can stand up, that you can run. But I loved playing Claire, and spending that time with her.
Ed Symkus writes about film for More Content Now.