About the Movie
Science fiction writer, John Henderson (Albert Brooks), realizes after two divorces, that if he doesn’t straighten out his relationship with his mother, Beatrice (Debbie Reynolds), he is never going to be able to make it work with the other women in his life. To this end, he moves back home and tries to figure out exactly where everything went wrong. As changes begin to occur, it not only affects John and his mother, but his younger brother, Jeff (Rob Morrow), as well. Together, they are forced to reexamine what it’s like to be a member of this family.
“The thing that excites me most is that I truly believe this is the first time people are going to get to see a movie that deals with a mother and a son in a realistic, funny way. I have never been able to sit in a darkened theatre and go, ‘Oh my God, that’s my life and that’s my mother,’ and the concept of moving back home as an adult is fascinating,” notes Brooks.
“There are two kinds of mothers on the planet. The first kind thinks that every single thing their children do is perfect and their children are God’s gift to the world. And then there’s the other kind. This is about the other kind,” Brooks says with a smile.
An actress, singer and performer for more than four decades, Mother marks Debbie Reynolds first starring role in a movie in more than 27 years, and she thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
“Albert was my director from day one. He’s really brilliant and has made a comedy with a lot of heart. Suddenly your parents are real,” says Reynolds. “What’s fun is that this young man moves back with this mother and totally upsets her life. He’s shocked to find out that she has a boyfriend and that even a mother doesn’t go and hide in a closet when she’s in her seventies.”
As for her character, Reynolds notes that “Beatrice adores her children, as do most mothers. She’s the mother we all have – all the good that we love in our mothers and all the frustrations that we sometimes feel about our mothers. Our biggest frustration is that we wind up being exactly like our mothers.”
“It was a difficult role because you have to play it real. There can be no Debbie Reynolds. This has to be mother,” notes Reynolds. As for Albert’s character, “John and his mother ended their living together too soon. His moving out and going on to young malehood occurred before he really understood his mother. John thinks that if he comes back home to ‘mama’ he’ll find the answers that will make his life happier. But, John also awakens the entire house to a new kind of discovery and in a way, a bit of new life for each of them,” she adds.
“Beatrice is very independent, very strong and pretends that she’s more helpless than she really is,” comments Brooks. “She likes her life more than it might appear because she complains a bit too much. She likes her privacy and she doesn’t want to be bothered. She’s in her world and her world is very important to her.”
“I watched as it was being developed, which brought additional insight into that relationship. It really speaks of Albert’s genius,” remarks producer Herb Nanas, whose close friendship with Brooks has lasted more than 25 years. “Nothing is more definitive than a grown man writing about his mother,” he adds.
As for Brooks’ character, “I created John to present the story. I love him. He’s easygoing and because he’s a writer, he’s allowed to be smart,” he says with a chuckle. “I’m about five to ten years ahead of the character I play in terms of understanding his family,” adds Brooks. “When my character leaves at the end of the movie, he’s at a place I probably reached maybe seven or eight years ago.”
“The reason I was able to make this movie is that I reached a point in my life where I stopped asking my mother to give me things that I wasn’t going to get. We look toward our parents. They bring us here. The best thing that happens is that you’re able to see your parents as people, with flaws – real people just like yourself. Then they lose that position of power and when you realize they are as vulnerable as you, their comments aren’t taken so seriously,” Brooks remarks.
With regard to casting the film, Brooks had known Reynolds for years through his friendship with her daughter, Carrie Fisher. “Debbie is one of the best comediennes I’ve ever seen. She’s brilliantly funny and a great actress. She will do what she has to do to play this part. She trust that I’m not going to steer her in the wrong direction. She’s willing to make a fool of herself and allows me to protect her against doing that. And that’s what an actress does (as opposed to a performer). I can’t imagine a person on this planet better for this movie than her,” comments Brooks.
As for Rob Morrow who plays his brother, “Rob was a bull’s eye for this part. I thought he physically resembled the character. His acting was right on. He got it from day one, when we met,” says Brooks.
Rob Morrow notes, “I’m a big fan of Albert. I would go as far as to say that he was an influence on me. In fact, there comes and inevitable point in every relationship I have where I show the woman Modern Romance, and her take dictates where our relationship is going to go.”
Morrow’s character, Jeff, is a very successful sports agent. Morrow says, “I think he and his mother are two peas in a pod. They have a relationship, and it’s really like he doesn’t want to mess with the status quo. He’s successful because he’s created a certain world for himself and certain pillars are in place. Although his mother is very supportive he is very needy and insecure. There’s nothing like that familial anxiety that happens when you’re around your family.”
Lisa Kudrow, one of the stars of the hit TV series Friends, had a unique experience on Mother. She had never met Brooks before starting work. She auditioned on tape and won the role of John’s date. “It was very date-ish,” says the actress. “The characters don’t know each other, so it helped that I did not know Albert well either.”
Like Morrow, Kudrow is a big fan of Brooks. “Albert is so funny and fast. He knows what he wants to try, plays around, improvises a little bit. He’s genuinely enthusiastic about his work. I’d like to make reference to his film Defending Your Life where ‘everything you put in your mouth is delicious.’ He’s just happy to be here and loves what he’s doing.”
Principal photography began December 6, 1995 in Los Angeles. The film was shot in 45 days, coming in three days ahead of schedule. Brooks notes, “I’m prepared. I mean if I’m going to take four years between movies, I’d better damn well know what I am doing when I get there. I spent a lot of time casting the film, preparing the sets, working with the camera angles, choosing the crew. When you are acting with people, it should be like a play. Debbie and I rehearsed for a month.”
The distinguished behind-the-scenes crew includes director of photography Lajos Koltai (Home for the Holidays, When a Man Loves a Woman), production designer Charles Rosen (Free Willy, My Favorite Year), costume designer Judy L. Ruskin (Waiting to Exhale, Sleepless in Seattle), and editor Harvey Rosenstock (Scent of a Woman, A Dangerous Woman).
The film utilized locations around the Los Angeles area, San Francisco and Sausalito plus various scenic shots driving up the coast of California.
From Paramount Pictures Handbook of Production, 1996