What is the plot of ‘Jules’?
‘Jules’ follows Milton (Sir Ben Kingsley) who lives a quiet life of routine in a small western Pennsylvania town, but finds his day upended when a UFO and its extra-terrestrial passenger (Jade Quon) crash land in his backyard. Before long, Milton develops a close relationship with the extra-terrestrial he calls “Jules.” Things become complicated when two neighbors (Harriet Sansom Harris and Jane Curtin) discover Jules and the government quickly closes in. What follows is a funny, wildly inventive ride as the three neighbors find meaning and connection later in life – thanks to this unlikely stranger.
Who is in the cast of ‘Jules’?
‘Jules’ stars Academy Award-winner Sir Ben Kingsley (‘Gandhi,’ ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings‘) as Milton, Jane Curtin (‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?‘) as Joyce, Harriet Sansom Harris (‘Licorice Pizza‘) as Sandy, Zoë Winters (‘Hunters‘) as Denise, and Jade Quon (‘Transformers: The Last Knight‘) as Jules.
Moviefone recently had the pleasure of speaking with director Marc Turtletaub about his work on ‘Jules,’ his first reaction to the screenplay and the themes he wanted to explore, how Milton’s life changes when he meets Jules and why he tells him all of his problems, designing the look of the alien, the friendship that Milton, Sandy and Joyce form, working with Sir Ben Kingsley, Milton’s relationship with his daughter, Jane Curtain’s performance of “Free Bird,” and what he hopes audiences take away from seeing the film.
Moviefone: To begin with, what was your first reaction to Gavin Steckler’s screenplay and what were some of the themes you were excited to explore with this movie?
Marc Turtletaub: Well, my first reaction was, I don’t see screenplays like this. You won’t find another movie like this in the next five years where you combine all of these diverse elements. Usually, stories which are about somebody starting to lose some faculties later in life are sad, and heavy, and somewhat melancholic, and this wasn’t. You blended with a ridiculous humor, a wild inventiveness, a slight science fiction element, and a four foot 11 inch alien. Those things don’t usually go together in one movie and, when I read it, my first reaction was, “Wow, can this all work? Can I pull this off?” My second thought was, “I need to try.” I look for movies that have meaning, they’re about something, and this was about something. You walk out afterwards and you talk about it, and you think about it, and you say, “At the end of this story, what do you think happens next to Milton?” So, there’s an element of depth to it, which I am immediately drawn to, and then the humor, it just immediately caught me. Those things don’t usually go together and, to keep it grounded, it’s critical that the actors played it straight, which they did.
MF: Can you talk about Milton’s mental health when the movie starts and how meeting Jules changes his outlook on life?
MT: It’s interesting because part of the secret sauce of the screenplay is the character of Jules played by Jade Quon who says nothing. Yet, she is the perfect listener that we all wish we knew, someone who is completely present, and she was always present, and yet doesn’t say anything. So, to me, that’s the part of the secret sauce of the movie is she’s always there allowing people to express themselves in a way that they may not have ever expressed themselves.
MF: It’s interesting that these humans meet an alien and then spend their time telling the alien all of their problems. What does that say about human nature?
MT: It talks about how we don’t listen to each other and we don’t really talk to each other. You say that but it’s really true. Sir Ben said to me at one point, “I could just get lost in her eyes,” and that’s the advantage of shooting practically, with a real actor, who’s really good in a costume as opposed to doing it all CGI. That’s what makes it work.
MF: Can you talk about designing the look of the alien and working with Jade Quon to make the character come alive on screen?
MT: I wanted to keep it very much a retro kind of feel. I didn’t want it to be a very modern looking Jules or have a CGI feeling. So, I looked back at old movies from the ’60s and ’70s, and even the ’50s, and looked at spaceships. They’re all sort of classically shaped the same way and the lights are in the same place. I looked at the aliens and they all had that same kind of grayish tone, and so we used that as our model. Then, both the costume and the production design teams worked off that image.
MF: What was your experience like directing Sir Ben Kingsley on set and collaborating with him to make this film?
MT: He’s amazingly well prepared, as you might expect, after his career. But I had this great moment with him early on in the movie where I went down to his trailer and we were chatting and he said, “You know, Mark, you can let go of Milton, I’ve got him.” He’s referring to his character, Milton, and what he’s saying is, “I know how to play that character and I can run with it.” That’s the way I like to work because I prefer not to rehearse with people. I prefer to let great actors bring in what they’re going to bring in, and then later on we can make changes. So, he was always prepared, always a collaborator, and you see the performance that you get.
MF: Can you talk about the friendship that forms between Milton, Sandy and Joyce out of their concern for Jules?
MT: Yeah, that’s really what the movie’s about. It’s about, can three separate, somewhat isolated people, later in life, find meaning and friendship, and that’s what occurred in the movie. In the beginning, Jane Curtin’s character is a bit bristly, while Milton is seemingly very happy by himself, and Sandy’s looking for connection with young people. It’s not until later in the story when this little alien comes, that they find that they can connect through the catalyst of having Jules. They can find a common bond and then they form a friendship by the end.
MF: Each human character has their own unique connection to Jules. Can you talk about that?
MT: For me, I thought that with Milton’s character, Sir Ben, that he has trouble with his own son, and he hasn’t connected with his own son. This gives him an opportunity to do what he didn’t do with his own son so he gets a chance to redo. With Sandy, Harriet Harris’ performance, she’s looking for a younger friend that she can teach things to but, in turn, what she finds is she doesn’t have to teach something, she can just share her burden with her own daughter and her grandson. Jane, who we think is just this kind of odd-ball character in the beginning, we come to love her and see who she was. She says, “I had my share of lovers but never settled down.” All of a sudden you start to really feel a different way about her at that moment, and she opens up as if it’s a true friend that she can share with. Each one of those characters find something in this creature, this alien, that doesn’t say anything.
MF: Was Joyce singing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” in the script or something that Jane Curtain improvised on set?
MT: No, there were several songs. There were three, we cut two out because it was just too much. But Jane worked with all three songs, she approved each of the songs. We had other songs, as I recall. I can’t remember what they were but other songs we tried, and those are the three she felt like she could actually perform so those are her actual performances. She got to rehearse, that’s something we did rehearse. She wanted to record those so we had a recording in case the live performance didn’t quite work, but the live performance was great. Then, we ended up using “Free Bird.”
MF: Milton has a sweet but difficult relationship with his daughter played by Zoe Winters, can you talk about that relationship?
MT: Yeah, Zoe Winters is great. I fell in love with Zoe as an actress when I saw her way before ‘Succession.’ I saw her in a couple of independent plays in New York. I’d always go like, “Who is she? Who is that?” Because this is when she was just getting started. I loved her work, and so I was quite happy to get her to play Denise in the movie. Then, she, of course, is the one that kind of, even though he has these two great friends, Zoe’s character is what really makes Milton say, “I need to stay here. I’m not done here. I have a daughter who loves me.” I think that’s really the key relationship in the movie.
MF: Finally, what do you hope audiences take away from seeing this film?
MT: Well, I hope that they love it and that they will spread the word because, as you know, independent movies depend on word of mouth. But I hope that they will find in this story an unusual combination of heart and humor, and share that with their friends.