PUZZLE – Interview with director Marc Turtletaub

PUZZLE is an intimate portrait of Agnes, who has reached her early 40s without ever venturing far from home or family. That begins to change when Agnes receives a gift of a jigsaw and discovers not only the joy of doing something she enjoys, but the fact that she is very, very good at it.

Puzzle is based on an Argentinian film. What about it made you feel it would translate?

I didn’t want to watch the movie till I’d long finished the film, because I felt it would influence me in some way. I just wanted to be able to take this script and interpret it without any predisposition. It’s a lovely movie, and I did get to meet (director) Natalia Smirnoff during the shooting. She came on the set and was, I think, quite happy to see how we had interpreted her original story.

Kelly MacDonald is wonderful in the lead role. Was she involved early on?

I loved her work. There are so few movies about a woman of a certain age. I think we’re going to see more of them because, as they become commercial successes, I think the studios are waking up and going: ‘Oh, there’s an audience’. Kelly as an actress I fell in love with, probably in a small film called ‘The Girl in the Cafe’, will Bill Nighy. I didn’t even remember ‘Trainspotting’ at that moment, and then a few years later seeing ‘No Country for Old Men’, and ‘Boardwalk Empire’. As I started to connect the dots, I thought: ‘Wow, look at how versatile she is, and how talented’. I had wanted to work with her and then I got this screenplay. We sent it to her immediately, and fortunately she felt the same way about it that I did.

You’ve said that Agnes reminded you of your own mother. Was that part of this project’s appeal?

As soon as I read it, I went: ‘I know that woman’. The character in the movie, Agnes, played by Kelly, lives in suburban Connecticut. I grew up living in suburban New Jersey. Where she in the movie has a husband and two sons, my mother had a husband and a son. In both cases, they doted on the family, on the men in their family. When I read this, I said: ‘I get that woman’. I think there’s always a sense that my mother would have loved to have had more in her life. Not that she didn’t have a happy marriage and enjoy raising her child, but there was something more, I think, that she knew she needed to be doing. So when I read that, it just touched me in that way.

You have a very established career as a producer. Have you always wanted to direct?

I think I became more interested in directing the longer I went as a producer. It became difficult not to do that, but to find something that was worthy of directing. It’s so hard to find a screenplay, unless you’re writing it yourself, which is of this quality and which doesn’t already have a director attached. I’m always interested in stories of people finding their authentic voice. This is one which did that in such an eloquent way.

You’ve produced some wonderful films including ‘Little Miss Sunshine’. Did you have a sense that you were involved in something special?

You have a sense, but until you see how the movie cuts together. You don’t know for sure, because so much can happen in the editing of a film. But we knew we had a special screenplay right from the beginning. When I first came into the business, I was reading about 150 screenplays a year, looking for the first one that we wanted to make. After about two years I was staying in a hotel down in LA, it was one in the morning, and I wrote on the page: ‘This is the one’. When you get great writing, you grab onto it.

PUZZLE is at Irish cinemas from Sept 7th