LA Film Fest: John Lithgow Talks 'Love Is Strange'

"Love Is Strange"

The film, about two men who wed after 39 years together, was inspired by co-writer Mauricio Zacharias' parents' 50-year marriage.

John Lithgow and Alfred Molina have been friends for more than 20 years, and that friendship lurks somewhere underneath their portrayal of Ben and George, respectively, in Sony Pictures Classics' Love Is Strange.

The movie premiered Thursday, the second night of the 20th LA Film Fest, at LACMA's Leo S. Bing Theatre in Los Angeles. In the film, co-written by Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias, Lithgow and Molina portray two men who finally tie the knot in an idyllic wedding ceremony in lower Manhattan, after 39 years together. But when news of their marriage reaches the Catholic school where George works, he is fired from his longtime job, and the couple can no longer afford their New York City apartment.

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"We wanted to write the film about mature love," Zacharias said. "The inspiration for me was my parents, who have been married for more than 50 years. And we rarely see this kind of love onscreen, so we really wanted to do that." 

Sachs, who also directed the film, used a directorial style both Lithgow and Molina were not accustomed to. Lithgow recalled Sachs spending time with each actor individually instead of having them all rehearse together. This let the "chemical reactions happen" once all the actors gathered on set. 

"It's the most kind of modest, muted performance, and yet it's so full of every one of these characters," Lithgow added. "I mean, there are so many great actors in the film. … He treated all of these characters with just as much care."

One such actor was Cheyenne Jackson, who played Ted, a young gay cop who lives below Ben and George. His character was based on a real person, whom he met in order to capture his essence. Jackson said Sachs' style allowed him and the other actors to improvise and collaborate, and watching a scene felt more like he was watching it from a distance.

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"Ira's really good at letting you kind of go," he explained. "It's almost like a fly-on-the-wall type of filmmaking."

One of the youngest members of the cast, Eric Tabach moved to Russia when he was 3 but moved back to the United States when he was 15. His 12 years outside of the country helped him develop his bad-boy character, Vlad.

"After I met the whole cast, I just had the feel for the family, and the environment made it very easy," he said. "There was very little preparation to become an intrusive character."

Love Is Strange opens in Los Angeles and New York on Aug. 22.