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      Going Places

She's got one of those faces you know you've seen before. And when you check out her credentials, you know why. With a career just shy of superstardom, Joanna Going has done it all: television, film and stage. She's worked with the likes of Oliver Stone and Lawrence Kasdan, Brendan Fraser and Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler and Joaquin Phoenix. As the video release of Joanna's pet project, Eden comes around, it's clear that she is going places.
Joanna Going's Toby Herman

I watched Eden last night, and I was really impressed with the story, because it seems to me that the concentration in Hollywood right now is on blowing up the world while they seem to be drifting away from character-driven stories. Is that one of the things that attracted you to that script?
Absolutely. Absolutely. This script came along and was sort of handed to me and I couldn't believe just how sensitively it was written. Not only did the material attract me, but I was really impressed that somebody was tackling these issues. So, it didn't take a lot of convincing to get onboard.
Was it at all an intimidating role to take?
Sure. It was physically challenging. When I first read the script, after I decided to do it, I learned that my brand new sister-in-law, Deborah, has MS. So, it became intimidating, because it became more personal, I guess, in that the anxiety was to get it right. I began to do more and more research and worked with the MS Society and worked with physical therapy groups. All the people who I worked with were so excited that a film was being made that they were willing to tell me their stories. I just felt such an obligation to them, because, you know, after all, it is a film with some liberties taken, as it is set in 1965. But as I did more and more research, I started to see, "Oh, maybe we don't have this quite right. We should make it a little different." Fortunately, Howard (Goldberg), the writer-director, was very willing to go with what I had learned. So, I was constantly immersed in the details and concerned about getting it right.
Are you ultimately satisfied with the way the film was handled?
Yeah. I mean, it's hard. You're never completely satisfied. You know, all the stuff that didn't make it into the final cut and all the things you shot that didn't quite get there. But the amazing thing has been the response of the MS Society and people who have MS. As a result of this film, I was asked to be an ambassador for the MS Society. I've been doing work with them and they have been very excited about the film. They're promoting it any way they can. And I've spoken to a lot of people who have seen it who have MS and they really felt that it spoke the truth. So, that's been hugely gratifying.
With this kind of response all around Eden, do you feel that you may never find another project that will leave the same sort of impact on you?
Possibly. I made these films three years ago, so I have done work since [then]. But, I think it's rare that you find something that becomes so personal. It seemed somewhat fated that I attached to this movie and I didn't learn until after I committed to the movie that my sister-in-law had MS. And then, just how wonderful the process of just learning about it was, as far as the people who I met. And then, after it's all said and done, being able to work with the MS Society.... It just seems that this was a road I was supposed to take and I don't think many projects will come that could compete with how satisfying this was.
What generally attracts you to your roles? Is it a matter of the material or the collaborators?
It's both. I've worked on many independent films, which usually involve young, first-time directors and you don't really know how they're going to be. So, in those cases, you're committing to what's on paper and what you see in the writing. I've worked with several first-time directors in that way. And then I've done other things, where it was just a matter of getting to work with a certain person. I think that the material has to appeal to me and you know, in some way, I have to feel that it's worth spending a few months of my life on.
Is one of the reasons that you're attracted to independent films the fact that there's such immense talent everywhere and it's just a matter of experimenting, kind of working on a project that's closer to home for a lot of people?
Yeah. There's a sort of commitment that goes beyond "this is just another job." Not that I don't like to work on Hollywood films, too -- and I have -- as long as it's something that I feel is worthy, I'll commit to it. But there is a sense, when you're working on a little film, that everybody's there for more than just the money. And everybody's pulling for it. And then there's a sort of an excitement and adrenaline because you are under the gun and it's guerrilla filmmaking as well. So, it feels a little more adventurous sometimes.
What was it like working with Oliver Stone and Lawrence Kasdan?
Larry Kasdan is just a prince. He's amazing in that that experience, for me, is sort of my ideal, as far as filmmaking goes, of actually doing the everyday work and I really adore him. The idea of working with Oliver was very intimidating because I had heard a lot of stories... but the actual work with him was really very pleasant. I was working with Anthony Hopkins and we shot for two days. I just have one scene in Nixon. But I really enjoyed working with him. And [I] would work with him again.
You've also worked with a lot of young Hollywood actors throughout your career, many times just as these stars were on the verge of breaking out. From Liv Tyler to Ben Affleck....
Ben and I worked together on Phantoms. And that was absolutely on the cusp of everything for him. While we were making Phantom, he was like, yeah, I'm going to be making this movie that I wrote, you know. He was going off to work on that [Good Will Hunting] after we did Phantoms and he showed me the script and who knew what it would do?
With this young group of talent in Hollywood, have you ever looked around while you were working on the set and kind of thought, "I think she's really got talent." Or, "I really think that he's going to make it?"
When I did Inventing the Abbotts, I was certain that Billy Crudup was going to do well. He's an amazing actor and a really wonderful person. And I just thought that he was really solid. He's got his head on straight. So, I have not been at all surprised at the way his career has been building.
What has been your favorite role so far?
That's a really hard question.
Is that like asking you to choose between your favorite children?
It is, it is. It's hard. And there are different ones that I've enjoyed for different reasons. I loved making Wyatt Earp and I really loved that character -- she's a real person and I felt so responsible to her. There's a film I did called Keys to Tulsa, which was a lot of fun because I really challenged myself with that part and I got to be a little wackier than I usually am. And just in terms of what it has become since we made the film Eden, when we were making it, I might not have said that this is going to be a favorite role, but because of the impact that it has had to people with MS, it has.
And what's next for you?
I did a mini-series that's going to be on ABC in February, "Tom Clancy's Net Force." And there's another film called Still Breathing, that's about to have a video release in January.
With Brendan Frasier?
Yes, he was great to work with. He was lot of fun. Other than that, I'm not sure exactly what I'm going to be doing next. Besides renovating my apartment.
Do you live in L.A.?
No, I live in New York. I grew up in Rhode Island and I've lived in New York for almost 16 years, so, it's my home.
Do you find it hard to be away from L.A. and still maintain an image in the industry?
It's been hard. It's something that I... it's a choice that I've made over the course of my career. Maybe things would be different if I had moved out to L.A. and been more in the thick of things, but that wasn't the lifestyle that I wanted. I just think it's a much saner choice. (laughs) All the intelligent people live in New York.
That's what they tell themselves, at least.

photo: Legacy Releasing

30 November 1998