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LOVED TO ’PIECES’

Heights writer-director talks about new film

for The Brooklyn Paper

Although his novel "What’s Eating Gilbert Grape" was the basis for the acclaimed Lasse Hallstrom film that brought Leonardo DiCaprio to prominence a decade ago, and he received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay of the Hugh Grant vehicle "About a Boy" last year, Peter Hedges wanted to try his hand at something else: directing his own movie.

"I believe in the power of image," says the Brooklyn Heights resident, whose directorial debut, "Pieces of April," from his own screenplay, opens Oct. 17.

"Since I usually write novels or plays, it’s rare when I come up with an idea that’s eminently cinematic," he explained during an interview with GO Brooklyn.

That idea is the deceptively simple one at the beguiling heart of "Pieces of April." April (Katie Holmes) lives on the Lower East Side with her boyfriend Bobby (Derek Luke). On Thanksgiving morning, the pink-tressed and tattooed black sheep starts to prepare a turkey dinner for her straight-laced suburban family coming to visit for the first time.

That family consists of father Jim (Oliver Platt), mother Joy (Patricia Clarkson), brother Timmy (John Gallagher Jr.) and sister Beth (Alison Pill). Mom has cancer, the others tread gingerly around her, and they all dread seeing what a mess they’re sure April will make of the day - as she has her whole life.

"I knew immediately that it was a cinematic idea," Hedges explains. "The impetus for the story was this collision of cultures between people who otherwise would never have met."

And Hedges calls the actors his "dream cast," including TV’s all-American girl, Holmes ("Dawson’s Creek"), playing against type. Of his April, Hedges has nothing but praise, and not only for her remarkably affectless acting.

"I wasn’t worried after I met Katie, because she was perfect," says Hedges. "She’s the ultimate trooper, she arrived right after she wrapped on ’Dawson’s Creek.’ In the movie, April has gone against everything her parents raised her to be, but underneath it all she just wants to be loved. And it’s that dichotomy that makes Katie’s performance so interesting. Katie is every parent’s dream daughter ... if I had a daughter [Hedges and his wife have two sons], I’d want her to be just like Katie Holmes."

The action takes place almost entirely in April’s apartment building. Discovering her oven isn’t working, April knocks on the doors of her ethnically diverse neighbors, people she’s barely acknowledged before this fateful morning, to enlist their help.

But it also consists of the introduction of April’s black boyfriend to her family.

"He’s African-American, but he could have easily been Chinese-American or Hispanic," Hedges notes. "I know that movies often lead the way in this culture, and maybe in its own quiet way ’Pieces of April’ will do that through this relationship."

Hedges has never hedged his bets: he always saw himself directing his first movie from his own "Pieces of April" script.

"I just knew," he says. "What appealed to me was that there was a way to make it for a small amount of money. I didn’t want to spend a year or more writing a screenplay then wait around and hope it would get made. I wanted to write a movie that I knew I could get made on my own.

"When this idea came, I knew it was a story I would be able to tell on film," says Hedges. "I’ve been wanting to write and direct a film for so many years, that the longer it took, the more important it became. It had to be special, I had to feel that I could do it better than anybody.

"This story walks a very fine line, between comedy and moments of heartbreak. I knew that it was delicate ... I needed to tell it in a certain way."

"Pieces of April" was shot on digital video rather than film, giving it the grainy texture Hedges says he wanted. "If we had filmed it, I would have worked very hard to have it look the way it ended up looking," he says. "I needed it to feel just like life, like a home movie, not staged."

During the 16-day shoot, the neophyte director never felt that he was in over his head.

"Once we started shooting, there wasn’t time to second-guess, and in retrospect that turned out to be a godsend," says Hedges. "I’m the type of person whose doubts sometimes hamper me to the point of paralysis, and it forced me to trust the writer.

"I knew what the story was trying to do, and how it would impact an audience. I knew I’d find strength I didn’t know I had. Because of that, it was a terrific experience."

 

"Pieces of April" will be screened at BAM Rose Cinemas (30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene) Oct. 23 at 7 pm. A Q&A with director Peter Hedges will follow the screening. Tickets are $10, $6 seniors. For more information, call (718) 636-4100. For tickets, call (718) 777-FILM (#545) or visit www.bam.org.

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