David Schwimmer is best known for his role of Dr Ross Geller in the popular sitcom Friends. His other eclectic movies projects include Band of Brothers, Six Days Seven Nights, Nothing But the Truth, Madagascar and Little Britain USA.
With is new movie Trust, he turns his talent to directing and producing. The film tells the story of 14-year-old Annie Cameron (Liana Liberato), who makes a friend online – a 16-year-old boy named Charlie whom she connects with in a volleyball chat room. But when she agrees to finally meet Charlie, she discovers he is really a 35-year-old man, who take her to a motel and has sex with her. When her parents (Clive Owen, Catherine Keener) find out, the event practically tears their family apart.
I spoke with David Schwimmer about his new movie, a subject that he has wanted to bring to the screen for seven years.
As a member of the Board of Directors of the Rape Foundation, I know this movie means a lot to you. How did this project come about?
One of our invited speakers was a father from the community who spoke about the process of coming to terms with his daughter being groomed, and subsequently raped, by an internet predator. He described his conflicting feelings of guilt, rage, pain, impotence and responsibility and how it nearly destroyed him and his family.
His incredibly frank and revealing story profoundly affected me, and I realized then that I had found an unusual path into dramatizing this delicate and difficult subject matter in a way that everyone can relate to.
It’s a sensitive subject and with the stringent hours of making a film it seems like a lot of filmmakers might have gone the route of getting an older actress to play younger for the role of Annie. Were you always intending to get a 14-year-old actress?
Yes, I think it was really crucial that the actress was age appropriate. There are films like An Education that came out where that wasn’t the case, and I think it really affects how you receive what you’re watching.
I didn’t want it to be in any way like that. ‘Oh this is okay, it’s appropriate for this man to be involved with a 14-year old.’ And I think there is a danger if you cast someone who’s 18 playing 14, that very subtly, almost unconsciously, the audience is going, ‘Oh this isn’t so bad.’
When you see Liana, who was 14 at the time of filming, there is a kind of inexperience and innocence that you can’t act, you can’t fake, it’s who she is and it was really important I think in the casting process.
How hard was it for you to shoot some of these scenes, especially the one in the motel?
[I wanted to] create a really safe environment for people like Liana, where some of these scenes, as you know, are pretty tough and scary. I intentionally put the motel room scene as late in the shoot as possible, so that by that point we had grown to be friends and really trusted each other in our work process and created a set in which she felt comfortable enough to take risks.
In the motel scene, how did you decide how much the audience needed to see and how much we would see?
I gave myself a lot of options so that in the editing room I could sculpt it so that it wasn’t gratuitous. I didn’t feel we needed to see much, I felt it was stronger actually that it’s implied. Our imagination often is more horrifying than being shown something. Also I didn’t want to be a victim of my own message, which is not to take advantage of a 14-year-old actor.
I didn’t want there to be any nudity, or any real overt violence. I think it’s more terrifying that there is no violence in that moment. There’s control and there’s power, but there’s no violence.
What was it that you didn’t know that you found out doing research for this film and what did you find the most disturbing?
That’s a tough question.
I’d been researching this specific kind of crime for about seven years. I think I stumbled upon a lot of surprising things that we tried to communicate in the film, such as the unique psychology of a grooming victim, where Liana’s character Annie, much to the frustration and pain of the parents was defending the relationship and protecting the boyfriend.
In many of these cases, a lot of these kids continue to secretly contact the predator where they have an incredible intimacy and emotional relationship.
And I think that it was a surprise to realize this impacts not only the character, because of the loss of innocence in that first sexual experience, but the real devastation for the whole family of that was her first love, and it turned out like that.
Also the ripple effect of just how damaging an event like this is for everyone in the family.
What does directing do for you that acting doesn’t?
I love both, I love helping someone else tell their story, but I like being the storyteller sometimes. It takes a lot longer to direct a film; this was about 7 years in development and then two and a half years from pre-production, production and post to here.
Not that I have people banging on my door to star in movies, but it takes me out of the acting game for a long time.
One of the themes in this is the loss of innocence. Do you think that the internet is the cause of that or is it just that times have changed?
I think a huge amount of it is because of the internet, every single thing is assessable now with a few clicks. Almost every child by the age of 13 has seen pornography. It used to be really hard to see pornography! Seriously, at 13 if you wanted to look at a Playboy, it was really challenging. Today it’s a joke.
This movie we hope is about parenting in the age of technology.