Little Miss Sunshine interview

Little Miss Sunshine interview

When Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris first heard about "Little Miss Sunshine," they didn't want to have anything to do with it.

The married directors, known best for their work on Red Hot Chili Peppers and Smashing Pumpkins music videos, had been looking over screenplays for five years, and this one sounded like another stinker.

"We'd heard it was about this family road trip, and there was a beauty pageant in there somewhere," Dayton said. "We thought, this is the last thing we want to do."

Then they read the script and discovered that it was more than worthy to be their first feature film. "It was about these characters who just felt really fresh and original, and who we could totally relate to."

Better, Dayton said, it felt like the kind of movies they loved growing up, dark comedies like "Harold and Maude" and "The Graduate."

That said, Faris said she's uncomfortable with the genre title. "The problem with dark comedy is it's just kind of been this overused term," she said. "I'm not sure what it means to people anymore."

People today often think of movies like "Bad Santa" as dark comedies, Dayton said. "Little Miss Sunshine" is dark too, but it also has humanity.

"Characters reminded me of aspects of my own life at various points," he said. "I felt like every character did things that made perfect sense to me and I would do given the circumstance."

Faris said she felt a strong connection to Olive, the ordinary girl who aspires to win the California beauty pageant.

"I remember being a little girl and dancing and thinking I was doing something amazing," she said. "All I was doing was running around the living room, jumping up and down, but I thought I was incredible."

But despite the universality of the character, it wasn't easy finding the girl for the part. Dayton and Faris started casting two years before filming began, and went to just about every English-speaking country looking for their Olive. Finally they came upon Abigail Breslin, age 6 at the time.

Steve Carell was another find. His character in "Sunshine," a suicide survivor, is far from the goofy role he had in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."

"We were so lucky to get Steve at the right time in his career," Dayton said. "The cool thing about Steve is he's just a guy who wants to challenge himself and it's exciting for us to be the first film that will show a different side of him."

Another key player in the film isn't a person at all, but in fact a Volkswagen bus the family takes from New Mexico to California.

Both directors had VW vans growing up. Faris even traveled around Europe in one.

"It was fun for us to come up with what would be the right VW bus," Dayton said. The model they ended up with was "just the right mix, where it wasn't too groovy. It didn't have those little airplane windows."

They ended up finding five buses from the era and painted them all to look the same, right down to the bird guano. Each served its own function, custom-modified for different camera angles and tricks.

There's a scene early in the movie when the family has to start the bus by shifting into neutral, pushing it until it's gained enough momentum, and then diving in before it's gained too much momentum. Dayton said it was tricky to film, since they wanted the actors to actually do it. "It's actually a lot of fun," Faris added.

As for the pageant, Dayton said they didn't really want to comment on it. "We felt there had been so many negative portrayals," he said. Instead, they got the real thing, right down to the kids and the costumes they wear. "People will make their own decisions about whether it's good or bad."

For Faris, the pageant at the end of the movie represents a larger theme. "You're always feeling like you're out to be judged," she said. "And the idea was to just kind of finally say . 'I'm not going to let people judge me anymore.'"

Though Dayton and Faris said they'll still do commercials and music videos (they're actually behind the next Chili Peppers video), Dayton said they'd love to do more features and already have a couple new projects in the planning stages. "We've definitely been bitten by the film bug"

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