In an effort to understand the tragedy and offer comfort to the heartbroken families of the men and women who died that day, Weaver signed on to star in “The Guys,” Anne Nelson’s stage drama about a journalist struggling to help a fire captain write eulogies for eight of his men. A big-screen version of the play comes to theaters next month.
Recalling how quickly Nelson’s play went from the page to the stage, Weaver said she, Nelson and her director husband Jim Simpson, who staged the play at his Flea Theater in TriBeCa, felt an urgency to “get it out to the people right away.”
“There was a sense that it could be helpful to people,” explained the “Working Girl” and “Gorillas in the Mist” star. “That in a sense, the film, without concentrating on what happened that day, could bring these guys to life in a way that could bring some solace to people because so many people felt devastated whether they lost a close friend or a family member or had no connection at all, as in my case. I felt like I lost someone, but I hadn’t and I think the story was so inclusive of all perspectives.”
“The Guys,” a relatively low-budget production starring Weaver as the journalist and Anthony LaPaglia as the fire captain, is the first major feature film to deal directly with the events of Sept. 11 other than Spike Lee’s drama “The 25th Hour,” which was released in December 2002 and featured brief shots of Ground Zero, and “Rudy!,” the USA Network television movie about former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani set to show on March 30.
Asked why there haven’t been other American movies addressing the tragedy, Weaver said, “I think it’s a daunting idea to do something about 9/11 that doesn’t do it in some cheesy way.
“I think people are still in shock,” the 53-year-old native New Yorker continued. “I think that we felt comfortable making this film because it was based on true experience. We had so much support from the fire department, the police department, so many people who had been involved. They seemed so anxious to have this get out in the world and, in fact, as we toured the East Coast and Chicago, the main response has been from all the firefighters and even all the regular people is, ‘We want people to see this. This is helpful.’ And I think you can enjoy the film, too. I think it’s a daunting enterprise and I think it’s probably good that there hasn’t been this glut.”
Directed by Simpson, “The Guys” is an intimate, thoughtful film celebrating the lives of everyday heroes and the resilience of the people living in one of the world’s greatest cities. It contrasts with the noisy Hollywood action film capitalizing on tension and destruction. Noting how some producers wanted to include a shot of the Twin Towers falling, Weaver said Simpson refused and stood firm regarding the film’s focus.
“We’d all seen all of that more than we needed to and I think this is a story that puts a human face on what two people can do for each other in a time of crisis,” she said.
In addition to recalling events so recently scorched into people’s memories, Weaver and the rest of the cast also faced the challenge of bringing people to life on the big-screen, including Nelson, upon whose experience “The Guys” was based, people who would see the film and be emotionally affected by it.
“You felt a lot of responsibility doing this material at all because people had been so assaulted by the event you just felt that you wanted to treat them with tenderness,” she emphasized. “In the beginning, as soon as I said ‘New York,’ you would start to hear people crying. The big challenge was to try to get through it yourself and be respectful of whatever people are feeling. We had the family of some of the guys we talked about come and they were incredibly generous to us. They were actually glad that they were doing it, that their sons’ eulogies were heard every night. So, I think that it was a more profound feeling than most plays that you do. You weren’t doing
Weaver described working on the play and the film as a “cathartic process for everybody involved,” noting, however, that she and the others sometimes found the material difficult to leave behind at the end of the day.
“It has its effects,” she confessed. “Every actor is different. But I just sort of wanted to go home and be quiet. I’m sure some actors would probably want to go out and have a few beers. It’s our job to go back to it every night and to sense how fresh the wounds were and the pain was in all these people who were coming. You were very, very aware of it all the time.”
“The Guys” opens in New York and Los Angeles April 4.