Field of Dreams, Fears and Nightmares: "Little Children" director Todd Field analyzes his new film

At work: Director Todd Field intensely studies a camera's viewfinder, but displays a sense of humor for an interview with members of the press.
(Photo: Robert Zuckerman/New Line)


         By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel -- October 2006

Todd Field's new film "Little Children", the director says, is not about suburbia at all.  "This story could have taken place anywhere.  It could have been in Pakistan around a well with women in burkhas gossiping or guys playing extreme soccer in a minefield for that matter."  Field has been promoting the film, which opened on October 6 in New York City and Los Angeles.  Opening in subsequent weeks in other North American cities, "Little Children" -- about several members of a quiet Massachusetts community whose pasts and presents collide in surprising and dangerous ways -- will make its presence felt in a big way.  Its cast features Kate Winslet as a suburban stay-at-home mother who follows her heart with an adulterous relationship with a stay-at-home father played by Patrick Wilson, who is domestic dad while his onscreen wife Jennifer Connelly edits documentary feature films.  Veteran actors like Raymond J. Barry and Phyllis Somerville round out the cast.  Todd Field himself looks very satisfied with the film, which was adapted from Tom Perrotta's novel of the same name.  Perrotta and Field co-wrote the film's screenplay.

"For me . . . the absolutely essential element of my initial attraction to Tom's novel to continue to exist . . . is his voice.  That's the first thing which struck me . . . he got me in the beginning and he grabbed me and he had me laughing and he had me in a very particular manner, and as I got deeper into the book I wasn't laughing anymore," Field said.  The film version of "Little Children", despite its humorous moments is no laughing matter either.  The more the viewer journeys through the minefield of human relationships and contradictions, the more entangled the dilemmas and ironies are.  In an often claustrophobic look at adults trying to break from convention and absolving themselves of guilt and responsibility by pointing their collective fearful finger at a neighborhood sex offender who has been released back into a quiet, close-knit Northeastern community outside Cambridge, Massachusetts, there are lots of judgments being made, by people who probably should not be throwing the first stones in the proverbial biblical sense.

Indeed, Field says, "the central idea is this idea of fear and judgment which is embodied in many different fashions in all these characters in his book but centrally around Ronald James McGorvey."  McGorvey, as jarringly portrayed by actor Jackie Earle Haley, is a sex offender who has been released into the local community after serving time for indecent exposure to minors.  The community's fear of him allows for an outlet of release, self-righteousness and moral indignation, while its own flaws and contradictions remain unaddressed. 

Working with Perrotta on the adaptation of his novel for the big screen was very satisfying.  Their dialogues were "very dynamic and exciting", Field commented.  "I can think of a lot worse people to spend time locked in a room with," the director joked.  Field's story is a mystery of sorts as gaps of knowledge are deliberately left unfilled about the circumstances of certain characters, especially the sex offender.  More than any mystery, the director feels that the book is a comment on today's times in the U.S.  "The thing that I got about Tom's book which is so abundantly clear reading [it] in '03 was that here is this sort of fairy tale allegory for the state of our country.  You know, looking for evil in a corner based on evidence or dodgy evidence.  Sending people off to prison with no human rights whatsoever and looking over our shoulder all the time and wondering, are we good citizens of the world, and moreover are we good Americans?  That's what interested me about the material.  The idea of exploring some sexual deviancy or impulse -- that's another movie." 

Kate Winslet as Sarah and Patrick Wilson as Brad, in Todd Field's new film "Little Children", which is adapted from Tom Perrotta's novel of the same title.  (Photo: New Line Cinema)

That other movie could have been "Eyes Wide Shut" (1999), in which Field appeared as medical school dropout-turned-pianist Nick Nightingale, hired to play at secret society mansion parties where all manner of orgies and sexual couplings occur.  In the photo at the bottom of this page he tries to persuade Tom Cruise's character to avoid attending the party which is off-limits to non-high society figures.  For a few minutes Field talks lovingly about Stanley Kubrick and several other matters surrounding the late Kubrick and a certain actor's criticisms of the late director that Field did not want to spend much time commenting on.  As far as the new film is concerned, Field has plenty to say about it.  His reflection on what his film conveys and what its meaning is, is a study of a director's thorough knowledge of the complex string gives detailed answers about the film he has spent the better part of just over two years working on.  "You're dealing with parental anxiety as a platform to explore fear and judgment and a lot of other things, so what scarier monster to have than an alleged, you know, whatever euphemism you want to attach to that character [the sex offender] . . . but that's really up for grabs for the audience."

Field is part of that audience.  In some ways it appears that he views his film "Little Children" through the eyes of his own children.  The 42-year-old married father of three admitted that when he became a father for the first time at age 24 he was clueless.  At a key moment in the new film, when Kate Winslet's "Sarah" character sinks into the arms of her child, the director knows where she is coming from.  "That's something I certainly relate to.  I have an 18-year old daughter, and a 13-year-old son, and a 10-year-old daughter and those three children have all been raised in a fundamentally different way based on where my wife and I were ourselves.  I mean, my daughter basically raised us.  She is so much more mature than we are and she knows every single flaw that exists for us.  And she's right.  And it's scary.   I mean, she has a level of maturity that is uncanny for an 18-year-old, probably based on pure survival, because we were babies when we had her and we had no idea what we were doing."  Despite his intensity as both an actor and a director, Field displays a tremendous sense of humor throughout the interview with members of a roundtable press that included The Popcorn Reel.  "I identify with that character [Winslet's Sarah] a great deal.  I understand what she's going through."  He pauses for a second or two.  "Even though I'm not having affairs with Patrick Wilson [the actor who plays Brad]."

Throughout the interview, Field engages in some introspection.  He mentioned being abducted as a youngster.  He also commented on his own childhood, contrasting it with that of his children.  "We're shoved fear down our throats that there's all these terrible things out there . . . we're shoved all these definitions about what it takes to be a good parent, because of course it makes us terrific consumers.  Fear drives the market, you know?  First thing that they said after 9-11, [does a mock accent]: 'don't worry, America will be back in business tomorrow.'  Well, you know, that's a thread that runs through our entire society right now.  And my childhood was very, very different from my children's childhood, and I wish that weren't so.  But I too have been affected by that fear.  I too am not as confident as my parents were.  And I wish I were, because that's part of the greatest gift that anyone ever gave me."


Todd Field , director at The 44th New York Film Festival of New Line Cinema's Little Children 
Todd Field at the 44th New York Film Festival in September for a screening of "Little Children."  (Photo: Jeff Vespa/


Patrick Wilson , director Todd Field , Kate Winslet and Noah Emmerich 2006 Toronto Film Festival
The director (seated) is surrounded by his principal cast members from "Little Children" backstage at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2006: from left, Patrick Wilson, Kate Winslet and Noah Emmerich.  (Jennifer Connelly also stars, in a small but key role.) 
(Photo: Jeff Vespa/


Todd Field as Nick Nightingale in Stanley Kubrick 's Eyes Wide Shut , also starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman , from Warner Bros.  
The director as Nick Nightingale in Stanley Kubrick's final film "Eyes Wide Shut".  (Photo: Warner Brothers)

Related story: Jackie Earle Haley talks about the character Ronnie and the long journey through his own personal life, in Hollywood and outside it.


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