Schwimmer building 'Trust'
by Miriam Di Nunzio
David Schwimmer is calling from New York. He'll soon be on a plane back to Chicago. And then it's back to New York. Or will it be Los Angeles?
It's not his social life that has him logging some serious frequent flyer miles. Schwimmer is busy co-directing (along with Heidi Stillman) his play "Trust," about an online sexual predator and the family he destroys -- which finds him at Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre most of the week. He's simultaneously editing the play's film version due out later this year (starring Clive Owen and Catherine Keener), which necessitates the weekend visits to New York. Is he out of his mind?
He laughs. "I don't think I know of anyone who has directed a play and edited the film version of the play at the same time," Schwimmer says. "It's been different. But it's been very productive. We've been making cuts and changes in the play based on how the film is shaping up."
Schwimmer, familiar to most for his role as Ross on the hit television series "Friends," spent almost seven years working on the script for "Trust," a play that explores the issue of who can you trust on the Web when you don't always know for sure who's at the other end? (Because of the psychologically graphic nature of the play, Schwimmer says that counselors will be available and post-show discussions will take place after every performance.)
The 43-year-old actor talked about the play that has been a very personal journey for him.
Q. What was the genesis of the story (co-written with Andy Bellin)?
A. I wanted the play to reflect the culture that kids are living in, a culture of texting, chat rooms and Facebook and instant messaging. It's completely changing kids' attention spans, how they receive entertainment and how they socialize. Kids are buried in their phones or online for so many hours a day, on average -- what, nine hours in front of some kind of screen? I wanted to somehow incorporate all that technology in a very human story, use a few devices to help tell the on-stage story. So we have these giant screens that are the backdrop of the set. We use live Internet surfing and chatting, photos and video, all visible on those screens. But there's also a very real balance between that technology and the characters on the stage. [The screens] and the actors both reveal the characters and the story.
Q. You're on the board of the Rape Foundation (based out of Santa Monica, Calif.). Your work with this group obviously influenced your desire to write "Trust." Why did this foundation resonate with you?
A. One very personal reason is that I had two former girlfriends who, it turns out, were each victims of child sexual abuse and date rape. So 14 years ago, I decided to do something to heighten awareness of these issues. The director [of the foundation] thought I could be useful in helping young men realize that this issue was a man's issue as well as a woman's issue because historically it's been about education and resources for women. We have to teach men as well -- what can you do to prevent this from happening to your daughter, girlfriend, sister or best friend at school.
Q. Tell me about the young actress, Allison Torem, and why she was right for this role.
A. Allison is just a terrific actress. There's a wonderful originality about her. The role is written for someone a few years younger than Allison, who's only 19. We auditioned some younger actresses, but I found it really difficult to find a young actor who can carry this role for eight shows a week because it's such a complex and tough role to sustain.
Q. Annie's father, Will, played by Philip R. Smith, goes through a metamorphosis in the course of the play, becoming a man so very different from when we first meet him. Why was Phil the ideal choice for this role and how did you craft that character?
A. Phil and I started out in acting class at Northwestern in 1984 and he's a soulful, dear man, with a huge heart. And that's what I needed from him, to bring those qualities to Will, especially in the beginning. The role is inspired by all the fathers I've met over the years through my work with the foundation, fathers I've spoken to and interviewed about what happened to them psychologically and emotionally when they learn their daughters have been raped. It's always a combination of rage and heartache that they describe to me. Like Will, these are regular guys who one day find themselves at gun shows or a gun store, whether they end up buying [a gun] or not. In course of the play Will will be consumed by those feelings because he can't do anything about what has happened to Annie.
Q.How do you keep the two versions of "Trust" in check?
A. One version is informing the other. We cut 30 minutes off the play this week because of how the film's editing was evolving. I can say, hey, I really don't need that scene in the film and then go to the stage version and cut it.