Rainey Qualley and Andie MacDowell in Mighty Fine

After interviewing the Oscar-nominated actor Chazz Palminteri for his new film Mighty Fine, I had the pleasure of interviewing two of his co-stars, Andie MacDowell and Rainey Qualley. MacDowell has enjoyed a nearly thirty-year career in films as varied and iconic as Four Weddings and Funeral, Groundhog Day, and Sex, Lies, and Videotape. She has recently been hard at work playing the tough-as-nails fashion designer on TV’s Jane By Design. Qualley, MacDowell’s real-life daughter, makes her film debut in Mighty Fine, playing Maddie, the oldest daughter in the troubled Fine family. MacDowell plays Stella, a holocaust survivor and the matriarch of the Fines.  Here’s what MacDowell and Qualley shared with me about working together, building a family on-set, and crafting their roles in Mighty Fine.

Jackson Truax: Rainey, when did you get the desire to pursue acting, and what has the journey been since then?

Rainey Qualley: I’ve wanted to act since I was kid. I started dancing when I was two. I grew up with creative parents, so the arts were always encouraged. Once really I decided this was what I want to do, I studied the Meisner technique at a program in New York for two years. I studied at [Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts] for a summer… I booked Mighty Fine right as my program in New York was wrapping up. It was great transition from training right into working.

JT: Andie, how did you two come to be in Mighty Fine together? I’m guessing the script initially came to you for Stella.

Andie MacDowell: Yes, it came to me for Stella. I met with Debbie [Goodstein, the film’s director] and I really liked her. I thought the script was fascinating and interesting and the role very challenging. By accident, Rainey and I had gone to a play one night and the casting director was there… [Rainey] was saying she was studying acting. [The casting director said] “Why isn’t your daughter auditioning? We still haven’t found Maddie.” I didn’t want to even suggest it. They said, “We don’t even have anybody. Can we at least audition her?” She was the best person they saw, they said by far. She did a great audition. They fell in love with her. The rest is history.

JT: You’ve talked about being able to relate to the character, as your mother was an alcoholic. How did that help you in building your character? 

AM: I grew up as a codependent with my mother, which is very common when you’re the child of an alcoholic. So Stella’s relationship with her husband is very codependent. She just wants to keep the peace and she tries to keep him happy. That was the role I played at home. So it was something I was familiar with. There’s the other element of the holocaust. But I’ve read an enormous amount and studied it for years…because my Dad was in World War II… It’s always been something that I’ve wanted to understand.

JT: Rainey, did you have a way into your character based on your own experience? Or did you have to invent Maddie more based on the script?

RQ: I think I was certainly able to bring parts of myself to the character. I think that’s sort of what you have to do with any role to make it feel real for yourself. Yes, the story of this family is dramatic and unique, but it’s definitely relatable. Maybe not every family has these big, huge fights…and a manic father. It might not be to that extreme, but every family fights. Every family has things that they have to deal with. And teenage daughters often feel rebellious. So I think in that way it was relatable.

JT: Your character expresses a lot of backstory and a rich life off-screen, mostly shown through physicality and subtlety. What was your process of coming up with all of that?

RQ: For [about] three weeks, I worked every day with a coach before we went down to New Orleans. So I had trained and practiced a lot for the role. Once we got to New Orleans, we had one table read. Also, we were able to spend some time with Debbie and get her ideas. It’s based on her life, so she knows the story very well. She had specific ideas for how she wanted things to be, but also gave us room to create the characters in a way that would feel real to us. So I think the combination of the work I did beforehand, and then finding the relationships with everyone in the cast, and working with Debbie.

AM: And Chazz was really great.

RQ: Chazz took me under his wing, and definitely showed me the ropes. And gave me lots of advice that you can only really learn through actually doing it.

JT: What’s an example of something he taught you?

RQ: So many things… Things that I wouldn’t have learned in an acting class like lighting and camera angles and stuff like that.

JT: Was there anything in particular your mom said or did that really helped you during shooting?

AM: We would run the scenes a lot the night before. We didn’t have as much time to practice as a whole cast. Mom and I stayed together. So we would run the scenes that we had to film the next day. She would help me if I needed it… I had the difficult scenes mostly figured out. It was definitely nice to have Mom there as a sounding board to make sure that I stayed on the right track.

JT: What were the biggest challenges in acting out a story that was so personal to the writer/director? How did that affect building your characters?

AM: It was interesting. There were some memories in her that were so vivid that she wanted to re-create them just as they were. Sometimes we would have to [say], “Well, this is a movie. This may not work…” Other times, she was really flexible and open and allowed for creative input. My favorite scene in the whole movie is the scene in the pool… I think [Debbie] was open to changing that a little bit. We had to because of the location. There were some elements that we took out… Jodelle [Ferland] and I were supposed to come [outside]. In the end, [we’re] just in the hallway, which I thought was less melodramatic, and was actually better.

RQ: I think, also originally in the script, we had a lot more dialogue after he brought the gun out.

AM: [Cutting] back on that dialogue so we could have more action. That’s one thing we kept trying to tell Debbie, too. There was another scene where Rainey’s with Jodelle and there was all this dialogue. I said…“Debbie, there’s so much dialogue… People are smart. You have to let them feel things.” She took the dialogue out.

RQ: It was just us snuggling in bed.

AM: That was my suggestion to her. You have to have quiet moments. Because quiet moments are so important.

JT: How did you approach working with Jodelle Ferland [The Cabin in the Woods]? She has a lot of acting experience, but is it different working with someone who’s very young and playing your daughter or sister? 

AM: She has a lot of experience. The kid’s been working since she was two. I think coming to a set and learning how to get along with people is probably second nature to her. She is a really nice person. Rainey has a little sister. So I think Rainey was able to pull on that…real-life relationship and say, “Okay, well I know what it feels like. This is how I am with my little sister.”

RQ: Jodelle’s a sweetheart… It was easy for all of us to bond and to form those relationships.

JT: Rainey, you got to go to New Orleans and wear some really fun clothes and do things with your hair that really evoked the seventies. Did you do anything else to immerse yourself in the era?

RQ: I think a lot of it, as you said, comes from what you’re wearing, what’s surrounding you. That gives the whole feeling of the era. Also, the family dynamic… One of the main things in the movie, even though the father really does need help, [he] won’t get help, because there’s the stigma about therapy and about medication. It was hard at that time to diagnose mental disorders. That was very much the thing that ignited a lot of the drama,  and the issue within the story, was that he just wouldn’t seek help… I didn’t do…that much to get in the feeling of being in the seventies. Human nature exists no matter what era it is. So there [are] always going to things that ring true for people. It doesn’t matter if it’s one hundred years ago or today, families are families.

JT: What were the biggest challenges you found in doing a movie made in seventeen days on such a small budget?

RQ: I think the hardest day was the last day, because that was it. We had to get everything done. We worked a twenty-hour day. Because they [said] “If you don’t get it done today, it’s not going to be in the movie.” We just worked and worked and worked. I think that was probably the hardest thing. But the crew was great. We all felt like we were working on it together. I had a wonderful experience.

AM: I did, too.

JT: What did the city of New Orleans bring to the story and how you approached it?

AM: I think it really worked for the Jewish aspect… I grew up in the South. There are not a lot of Jewish people there. I do think there’s a stigma. I think the stigma still exists to some degree. It’s better, but it’s still a stigma… I’m sure it was much worse in the seventies.

JT: Andie, the next 8-episode stretch of Jane By Design has been announced. How far along are you in filming?

AM: I’m in the middle of it. I’m working tomorrow. I’ve done three, and I’m starting on the fourth.

JT: Can you share anything with fans about what they can expect when the show comes back in June?

AM: There are a lot of young girls out there that would like this: another cute guy… A lot of the girls are talking about how hot the guys are… Great clothes, people are interested in the clothes. Fantastic wardrobe. We’re going to New York. We’re going to go shoot in New York. There’s going to be some more really interesting guest appearances.

JT: Rainey, what are your plans after the release of Mighty Fine?

RQ: I just moved [to Los Angeles] four months ago with my boyfriend [Richard Kohnke], who plays Earl [in Mighty Fine]. That’s how we met. So he’s my real-life boyfriend now. We’ve been together since we filmed. We just moved out here together. We’re both auditioning… I write music and sing, as well… One of my songs plays during the credits of Mighty Fine… I’m recording some demos this week. Hopefully, soon I’ll have that put together.

JT: Do you two see yourselves working together again?

AM: Sure.

RQ: That’d be great.

AM: I hope so.

JT: Rainey, maybe you could be one of the guest appearances on Jane By Design, and you could hang out with the cute guys and wear the great clothes.

AM: There you go.

RQ: That’d be awesome.

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