Both Jonathan Kasdan and Adam Brody had something to prove. For Kasdan, son of famed writer-director Lawrence Kasdan, it was to show that after writing for television, he could make a film, too. For Brody, it was to prove that after years of success on “The O.C.” and small roles in features like “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” he could carry a picture in the lead. The two young men came together to make their point jointly with “In the Land of Women,” the story of a young California man in an emotional tailspin who travels to the Midwest to care for his ailing grandmother and falls in with the women who live across the street from her—both mother and daughter.
“Honestly, I would say my family should run for the hills, because this movie is so aggressively autobiographical, painfully so,” Kasdan said only half-jokingly during a recent Dallas stopover to promote the picture, his feature debut. The movie is actually described as semi-autobiographical, and Brody, who plays Jonathan’s self-described “surrogate” Carter Webb in the picture and had also come to Dallas, described it as “really much more creative and interesting” than simple autobiography. “Really what it is,” he said, “is that Carter has facets of him, but every character in a way is just a kind of a layer, a dimension of Jon himself, and every story that every character has in this movie is either something that happened to Jon, or something somebody he knows went through. So it all means something to him.”
Kasdan explained, “I love big movies. Those are the movies I go to see, and I’d certainly like to make them. But the only thing that I’ve ever had any success with as a writer is very personal work, and certainly the stuff that’s seemed truest and more authentic. So I feel this kind of thing will be what the majority of my career is like.”
Even Carter’s job in the picture—writing soft-core porn movies—has a quasi-autobiographical link for Kasdan. “First of all,” he said, “soft-core porn is a world that I think is very funny. I love the idea that there are those half-hour programs on Showtime late at night. I always wonder, like, who is the creative force behind this? I’ve spent way too much time thinking about that!
“But specifically, I come out of television, and I worked on a show called ‘Freaks and Geeks,’ that was an incredibly cool experience. And then I went on to ‘Dawson’s Creek,’ which was actually an equally cool experience for me, but felt in some ways akin to writing pornography, just of a different kind—it was the sentimental, soap opera pornography rather than the real kind. So that was me writing about having a job on a show that you’re not eager to tell everyone you’re writing.”
“In the Land of Women” takes Carter from L.A. to Michigan to look after his addled grandmother after he’s been dumped by his long-time girlfriend, a supermodel, and feels in need of a change of scene. In searching for himself he comes to know a family living across the street from his grandma’s house, and becomes involved with both the mother (Meg Ryan) and older daughter (Kristen Stewart).
“When I finished writing the script,” Jonathan recalled, “I felt like I’d almost unconsciously written it for Meg, partly because she loomed so large in my own fantasy life as the ideal woman. She came on board immediately, and then my entire life became about trying to find this guy [Carter], which was really the heart of it. And I met hundreds of actors in L.A. and New York and even Chicago, and I couldn’t find what I was looking for—which was, not to put too fine a point on it, John Cusack. I was looking for John Cusack, Matthew Broderick and Hugh Grant rolled into one guy. I hadn’t been able to locate him, and in a moment of frustration we said, why don’t we postpone shooting to open up our pool to actors on TV shows that wouldn’t be available to us for eight or nine months? And Adam was the first one I met. We instantly had a rapport, we instantly knew that we were going to make the movie together. He was that guy to me. And I cancelled all the rest of the meetings and we shut down the movie. And we started up again eight months later.”
Brody explained what had drawn him to the project: “It’s a fantastically written script, and those are truly few and far between, especially one that is so character-driven. It’s even more rare to open a script and see that much dialogue and be such a nice sort of movie. It’s really kind of an actors’ piece. I really responded to the character.”
But “In the Land of Women” had another attraction for Brody. “I felt it was a really nice natural progression from what I was doing on the show,” he said. “While I wasn’t aggressively running away from that, at the same time I didn’t feel it was the same character, either. Seth [his character on “The O.C.”] does so much talking—he never shuts up. [Here,] in a way it was like I was playing the Ryan character [on “The O.C.”], doing more listening. Film allows you to do that a little more, where you can kind of be still. There are a lot more close-ups, so you have to do a little bit less. My favorite thing was to be able to do a scene and listen, and not have a lot of lines. And you do a show, and you become an economical actor pretty fast—I know I do, anyway. I stop wanting extra takes very early on. On this, it’s a very different story. It was nice to try again.”