GRETA PECK – A WONDERFUL LIFE

 

The Pecks

REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – LOS ANGELES
PHOTOS: TOMI HINKKANEN

Movie fans all over the world remember Gregory Peck (1916-2003) as the handsome leading man of Hollywood’s golden era. His first wife was Finnish-born Greta, née Eine Matilda Kukkonen. Although never a Hollywood star, Greta became a true star in her own right as she spread light on everybody she touched. Greta and Gregory were married for 12 years, had three sons, and remained life-long friends even after their divorce. Tragedy brought them together years later when their first-born son Jonathan committed suicide. She dedicated her life to her children and to charity and is fondly remembered by those touched by her kindness.

Greta Peck and her son Cary - Copyright by Tomi Hinkkanen

Greta Peck and her son Cary

I first met Greta at in 1996 at one of her famous parties at her home in Beverly Hills where old and new friends alike were invited. Later on we befriended and I wrote a few stories about her for Finnish publications. She had a lilting voice and would nod her head when making a particularly important point. Those were her twilight years.

“It’s a wonderful place to live,” She remarked about her Beverly Hills home. “If you can afford it,” I added silently in my mind. When I caught up with her a few years later, her beloved dog Monsieur was no longer alive, and she did not take another animal perhaps fearing that it might end up alone. At this point she no longer made her annual trip to her homeland either. It would be doubtful that any of her friends or relatives would have been alive there anyway.

Copyright by Tomi Hinkkanen

Greta Peck and Ava Anttila

Gret Peck’s home was like a time capsule. God only knows how valuable was the lot her Beverly Hills house stood on. It was once a part of Pickfair: a property that belonged to the silent film star Mary Pickford and her husband Douglas Fairbanks built in the 1920’s. Later on, the vast lot was subdivided into smaller ones and Greta’s was one of them. It was a one story mid-century modern house with a great view of downtown LA. Around her house, the other 1950’s bungalows had been razed to make way for large and gaudy McMansions that filled up their entire lots. A 1980’s Cadillac was parked in front of her house, but she rarely drove it. Instead, she was picked up by friends to go to her charitable functions. Inside her home, there were several beautiful paintings on the walls, some sculptures and stacks and stacks of old photographs on tables everywhere. At my urging she sifted through them, trying to remember the people in several smart get-togethers the pictures depicted.

Copyright by Tomi Hinkkanen

Gregory and Greta Peck

Eine Matilda Kukkonen was born at the old Helsinki railway station on January 25th, 1911. Finland wasn’t even an independent country then, but a Grand Duchy of the Tsar’s Russia.

“My mother was traveling to town by train from our country house, thinking that she would still have one month before I was to be born, but I decided to come into this world right there and then. It’s a good thing I was the youngest of four sisters, otherwise my mother would have had a difficult time,” Greta Peck reminisces. Her watchmaker father took the family to the U.S. when she was four. The family settled in New Jersey. At school the teacher always mispronounced her name Eine, so she changed it to Greta. The family name Kukkonen had already been shortened to “Konen” on Ellis Island. So the young lady was known as Greta Konen. At the time, girls were only expected to get married, bear children and become housewives. Greta tried to follow in that tradition. At 18 she married an American businessman, Charles Rice. They divorced after four years and had no children. After her marriage ended, Greta decided to get an education. She attended beauty school and, upon graduation, was hired as a make-up artist by ‘the first lady of American theater,’ Katharine Cornell, who had a touring theater group.

“We toured around the country, traveling by train, and visiting every state. Some performances were one-night-stands. Of course, we stayed longer in big cities, like Chicago. There were about 25 people in our entourage. Each tour lasted for 9 months,” Greta says. After the tour was over, the troupe returned to New York.

“Kathryn Cornell was such an elegant lady. She produced a new play every year with her husband Guthrie McClintock, who was a theatrical producer. They had a beautiful home in Manhattan with a garden overlooking the East River where they often entertained great writers and other interesting people.”

“Gregory Peck was a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, and had gotten an engagement with the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. He had been there a couple of years. The play in which Peck was in was closing. Guthrie McClintock just so happened to be in the last show. He was so impressed that he asked Gregory to join their theater group. And that’s where Gregory and I first met,” Greta recounts. Cornell’s group embarked on a new tour. Gregory joined them in Boston. The play was called “Doctor’s Dilemma”. Gregory Peck had only one line in the last act. He asked Greta for a date at the Merry-Go-Round bar in Boston. They began falling in love during the tour.

Gregory Peck

“Gregory was an ordinary, quiet, serious man,” Greta describes. As the tour drew to a close and the group returned to New York, their relationship began to deepen. In the earlier days Gregory had been so broke that he had to sleep on a bench in Central Park.

“My brother Paul and I shared a two bedroom apartment on 39th street. Gregory shacked up with us for a few months. Then he got an offer from RKO studio in Hollywood and asked me to marry him.”

It was an intimate wedding ceremony with just a few close friends present. Greta was 31 and Gregory 26. They took the oath in a Methodist Church in Manhattan on the fourth of October 1942 and then flew straight away to Los Angeles.

“I couldn’t have traveled with him, if we had not been married,” Greta points out. After the hustle and bustle of New York, arriving in Los Angeles felt like they had landed in the middle of a desert.

“There were only a few houses here and there and hardly any cars. We rented a house near Sunset Boulevard. Greg’s salary in the beginning was a thousand dollars a week, which was a lot of money back then.”

Gregory’s ample salary enabled Greta to remain at home. World War Two was raging on and many of Hollywood top male talents had been enlisted. So, there was a shortage of actors. Gregory Peck was discharged because of a bad back. The young and handsome actor found himself in high demand. He began to shoot movies back-to-back. Director Alfred Hitchcock cast him in his thriller Spellbound opposite to Ingrid Bergman.

Gregory and Great Peck

“We liked Hitchcock a lot. He was a very interesting man. He often invited us to dinner and we in turn invited him and his wife Alma to our house. Also, Ingrid Bergman was good company.”

At that time, the stars spent their lives isolated from the outside world. The already established movie star Gary Cooper and his wife, Sandra Shaw introduced the Pecks into the Hollywood high society.

“They held grand parties at their home for a couple of hundred guests – all top actors and actresses, producers and directors. After a grand five course dinner , there was entertainment and dancing to a live orchestra.”

“Due to Greg’s work we were always invited to many events. It made life interesting. We traveled often for months in New York and elsewhere. And we got our first son Jonathan very early on. So we were constantly living a full life.”

Soon they had two other boys, Stephen and Carey. The family moved to a mansion in Pacific Palisades with a swimming pool, tennis court, and guest house on three and a half acres. The staff included a butler, a maid and a nanny. Gregory’s working pace was intense – he filmed a couple of dozen movies during their marriage. Greta begun volunteering and supporting charitable organizations The war veterans’ cause was especially close to her heart. Their daily routines were interrupted by long trips to Europe, where Hollywood movies began to shoot after the war.

The Pecks

“We lived six months in England, France and Italy. I liked them all, because each country is special in their own way, and I love variety.”

The Peck’s never visited Finland together. Greta went to the Helsinki Olympics in the Summer of 1952 and Gregory visited the country a year later. Media at the time was much more gentle than today. Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper was constantly trying to fish Greta for news about Gregory, but she never told her anything. She remembers having given a few interviews to Finnish reporters. The paparazzi were an unknown concept. The movie studios had their own publicity machines that fed the press whatever they wanted. There was gossip going around about Gregory Peck’s involvement with his co-stars Ingrid Bergman, Ava Gardner and Audrey Hepburn. Greta did not admit to knowing anything about these alleged relationships.

“It never occurred to me. The way I looked at it was that it was just doing his work.”

Gradually, Greta and Gregory began to drift in their own separate ways.

“We just grew apart, there was no drama attached to it,” Greta points out. She neither blames Gregory’s busy schedule, nor any woman for the break-up of their marriage.

Copyright by Tomi Hinkkanen

Greta Peck and her beloved dog Monsieur

After one trip to France, Greta and the boys returned home to California while Gregory remained in Europe. There he had met the French journalist Veronique Passani, who was 16 years younger than him. She had interviewed him for the newspaper France-Soir. After the interview, Gregory phoned her, asking her out. Veronique was so impressed that she cancelled her interview with the Nobel Prize winner Albert Schweitzer.

“I heard about Veronique upon Greg’s return. It did not startle me in any way, since we had already decided to separate. There was no dispute about it.”

The couple divorced before Christmas of 1955. That same New Year’s Eve Gregory Peck married Veronique Passani. Greta was also to be remarried.

Copyright by Tomi Hinkkanen

Greta Peck with Tomi Hinkkanen and Linda Brava

“I planned to marry a successful businessman and real estate agent named Howard Hodge. He was a very nice man from the east coast. We had known each other for about four years. But then he suddenly died of a heart attack,” Greta says quietly. Hodge, however, left her money in his will. Gregory helped Greta to buy a house and enlarge it. At first, she spent a lot of time with her ex-husband, their sons, as well as Gregory and Veronique’s children.

“Then Veronique wanted to put an end to it. She did not want me spending time with Gregory. After that, we only met on family occasions.”

A tragedy brought them together in 1975. The family’s first-born son Jonathan who had made a career for himself as a TV journalist committed suicide at the age of 30.

Greta’s sons, Stephen and Carey, helped her a great deal to cope with the tragedy. Stephen shared his mother’s interest in the cause of the war veterans and worked for the Veteran’s Administration. Carey, in turn, carved out a career as an executive in the Los Angeles school district. Greta and Gregory met for the very last time about four months before his death at their grandson Ethan’s football game.

Copyright by Tomi Hinkkanen

Greta Peck loved to paint

“We enjoyed the game and exchanged greetings, nothing special,” Greta says. She never remarried. Gregory and Veronique stayed together until his death in 2003. Greta’s life after Gregory was filled with charity events, friends, travels, her sons and six grandchildren. Every summer Greta would travel to Finland to see her dear cousin Maire Lilja. At some point, she also owned a beauty salon and a real estate agency. In 1967, the president of Finland Urho Kekkonen granted her the Order of the White Rose of Finland medal for her work for the Finnish WW2 veterans. She was also a member of the Finnish-American Chamber of Commerce and received an honorary doctorate from Finlandia University in 1994.

Greta Peck at home in Beverly Hils

“I enjoy being single – I need my freedom. Gregory was a great partner and we had a good relationship through our sons ’til the end,” she summed up her life to me in 2003. She died five years later, January 19th, 2008 at the age of 96.

She is remembered in the LA Finnish community as an intelligent and charming friend, a devoted mother, and as a bright star who dedicated her life to helping others.

SUSANNA PUISTO: HOLLYWOOD’S FINNISH COSTUME DESIGNER

COMING SOON:
The fascinating story of John Hauli: a mysterious man who left his small eastern Finland town of Kuusjärvi at the turn of the century in search of a better life in America and whose legacy lives on in a little piece of paradise called Hauli Huvila.

John Hauli's Hauli Huvila

SUSANNA PUISTO: HOLLYWOOD’S FINNISH COSTUME DESIGNER

REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – LOS ANGELES
PHOTOS: JONNY KAHLEYN

Susanna Puisto by Jonny Kahleyn

Costume designer Susanna Puisto is one of the very few Finns working in Hollywood film industry. Susanna works as a freelancer and is hired separately for each film production. A costume designer creates the clothes actors wear in movies and leads the costume department in any given production. The costumes for a movie are planned weeks before the cameras start rolling. The work requires an artistic eye and a healthy dose of diplomacy.

Susan receives the journalist and photographer at her home in Silver Lake district of Los Angeles. She lives on a hill in a detached house with stunning views of downtown Los Angeles skyscrapers. The home is warmly decorated in pastel colors. The living-room bookshelf is full of costume-design art books. Susanna plays one of the lastest films, MacGruber, from a dvd as a sample of her work. The film is a comedy, based on Saturday Night Live skits and a parody of the TV series MacGyver. It is set in the present time, but the main characters played by Will Forte and Kristen Wiig have remained stylistically in the 80′s.

– Some of the clothing was pre-determined, since they were based on well-established skits, so we had to use them. But there was only one piece of each garment and we needed a dozen. So, we had to have them taylor-made at a high price.

A common misconception is that a costume designer creates each and every piece of clothing by him or herself. In reality, they are obtained from all possible places – department stores, used clothing stores, from other designers, and from costume rental facilities. Only those clothes that are not available anywhere else are planned from scratch. A costume designer is a foreman with a budget and team. A typical studio film has a a costume budget that equals to about one percent of the total budget  i.e., in a 10 million dollar movie, it is one hundred thousand dollars.

Susanna_Puisto_by Jonny Kahleyn

Susanna Puisto by Jonny Kahleyn

Susanna’s workdays are busy:

– I go to the office at eight o’clock in the morning. I start by having a meeting with my team, and give them their tasks which  include shopping for clothes and making returns. We also do product placement, that is, we will contact clothing manufacturers and designers who want visibility for their clothes. The background actors need costumes as well. My principal assistant and I go to the first fitting at 10 o’clock.  Afterwards, we upload images of the cast wearing their costumes and email them to the director. Then we go shopping for future fittings.

One of Susanna’s latest works include a drama based on a true story called “From the Rough”. She began designing outfits for it six weeks before the filming started.

– The film is about golf, so we had to learn quickly about everything related to golf. I did not have any previous experience of the subject, but that’s only a matter of studying.  My motto is: there is no need to go to the outer space in order to make outfits for a space movie. You learn something new from each assignment.

A good costume designer understands and highlights the thematic content of the scene.

– I was costuming Josh Lucas for a movie “A Year in the Mooring”. He wanted to wear a colorful t-shirt in a very dramatic scene. Isn’t that an awfully happy-looking t-shirt for such a dramatic scene, I asked him. Bad things happen to people who wear happy-looking clothes, he responded.

Susanna is known in Hollywood for her good relations with major stars. Rebecca De Mornay is one her friends who constantly asks Susanna to design her costumes. Even Val Kilmer, who has a reputation of being difficult, succumbed to Susanna’s will.

– We didn’t have any problems. In the first fitting I started to hand him his costumes: ‘this is number one, number two, number three …’, and he just looked at me. Then I started going through the rack and removed the ones which I did not feel right for Val now that I had met him. “I usually do that”, Val blurted out. Oh really, I replied. ‘Doesn’t anyone tell you no’, he asked. I answered, ‘No, do you want to be the first?’ ‘No’, he replied.

Susanna Puisto by Jonny Kahleyn

Susanna Puisto by Jonny Kahleyn

Susan has also worked with Renny Harlin on the film The Cleaner.

– I love Renny, he is absolutely wonderful!

In the thriller “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”, she got to design for Michael Douglas.

– We talked on the phone first. Michael wanted to imitate the Republican politician Mitt Romney who wears tailored suits. I took it as a starting point. Douglas was used to wear specific brands, but I had a contact with the Italian clothing company Canali that makes fabulous suits.

They met for the first time at the Universal Studios.

– Michael is absolutely wonderful – a class act. They don’t make men like that anymore. He drove from his bungalow to my office in a golf cart. Michael was interested in my background. In the middle of the fitting, when my stomach began to rumble from hunger, he offered lunch.

– Once the costumes were tailored, I met Michael again in the Beverly Hills Hotel to make sure everything was ok. His wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones came along. ‘Good job,” she said, ‘Michael could use a change.’

After the filming was over, Douglas wanted and got to keep the outfits Susanna had created.

Once in a blue moon the designer can also influence casting. Susan proposed a Bulgarian-Finnish actress Vera Jordanova for a horror film Hostel II as a villainess.

– I was hired as costume designer on the movie. So, I met with director Eli Roth and producer Dan Frisch. I asked if they have already cast the part of Axelle. They said no. Then I spoke the famous words: I have a friend. They checked out Vera on the internet and called her to come to an audition. She got the part.

One cannot pin Susanna to say anything negative about any star. A large part of the job is to be able to massage big egos.

– They are all demanding. One can never say ‘no’ to anything. One has to be diplomatic. We are called the dream team. We want to please. After all, actors are the ones who have to wear the costumes. If they don’t want to, I cannot force them to do so. My job is to help the actors in their work, not make it more difficult. The costume department is often compared with the art department. I always say that they have nothing in common for walls don’t have opinions.

SUSANNA PUISTO
Born: in Helsinki
Parents: journalist-writer, Tuula Poutasuo and steel industry businessman, Raimo Puisto (divorced)
Background: The family moved to Spain in 1979. Since then, Susan has lived in Monaco, the Bahamas, New York and San Francisco, where she studied acting. Susan moved to Los Angeles in 1990 in order to become an actor. She got a job instead as an assistant costume designer for a TV series. She assisted a costume designer for three years. In order to become a costume designer herself, Susanna had to do free work on indie films and theater to prove herself. A theater play called Big Al spawned her first paid work as a costume designer for a TV pilot, and launched Susanna’s career.
Marital status: Divorced, no children
Hobbies: Traveling, nature hiking, going to galleries and playing with her dogs Misty and Scruffy.

 

FINNISH FILM DIRECTOR VIVI FRIEDMAN DIES AT 44

Vivi Friedman

Now cracks a noble heart.
Good night, sweet princess.
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!
(Hamlet, V.ii.359-360)

It is with deep regret and profound sadness that we inform you of the passing of Vivi Friedman yesterday, January 2nd, 2012, after a long battle with cancer.

Our condolences to Vivi’s partner Steven and relatives. Ha-Makom yenahem etkhem be-tokh avelei Ẓiyyon vi-Yrushalayim.

Here is a story we ran just a few months ago on the premiere of Vivi’s first feature film in the United States:

REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – WEST HOLLYWOOD
PREMIERE PHOTOGRAPHS BY JONNY KAHLEYN/TOMI HINKKANEN

Finnish Vivi Friedman’s first feature film ‘The Family Tree’ premiered on the big screen last weekend in Los Angeles and New York. The film boasts a star-studded cast: Dermot Mulroney, Hope Davis, Chy McBride, Selma Blair, Jane Seymour, and others. Vivi Friedman is not yet a household name, but she is well-known in the advertising world. The 43-year-old director has had a long career in TV commercials. She has directed spots for both Finnish and international companies and is represented by an agency in Germany. In America, ad agencies don’t seem to bother much with subterfuge while European TV commercials often tell a clever little story with a twist (revealing the advertised product or service at the end). Vivi became known for these kinds of story-driven commercials. Vivi Friedman came to the United States 20 years ago. She studied at Rochester University in New York and at UCLA in Los Angeles. However, she admits that school was not really something for her and that she got most of her training in the field. In Hollywood, Vivi familiarized herself with the production process of American movie-making by taking on production assistant jobs here and there. Then she made a short film called ‘Certainly Not a Fairytale’.

Vivi Friedman directs Dermot Mulroney and Hope Davis

“My agent sent copies of the my film to various producers and agencies, and one of the recipients was screenwriter Mark Lisson’s manager who was looking for a director for Mark’s script. I then met with Mark and we got along great. That’s how it all started,” Vivi recalls. Along with the writer, Allan Jones produced. Alan didn’t divulge the exact budget amount, but said it cost less than five million dollars to make. The Ohio-based movie was actually filmed in Los Angeles in 2008. The tight budget allowed for only 25 days of shooting.

‘The Family Tree’ is a dark comedy about a family in crisis. The parents are on the brink of a divorce, the teenage son is mixed up with a fundamentalist church and its gun-worshipping pastor, and the daughter struggles with her sexuality. The Burnetts get a second chance when the mother (played by Hope Davis) loses her memory due to a head concussion and starts believing that everything is fine with the family. This reboot starts the chaotic sorting out of the whole family mess.

Vivi Friedman at the LA premiere of 'The Family Tree'

Before the cameras were able to start rolling, Vivi had to ‘sell’ her film to some top Hollywood names. With the help of a good casting director, she succeeded in attracting a stellar cast to her first directorial effort. The first one hired was Dermot Mulroney for the role of Jack Burnett, the husband and father of the family. Mulroney is perhaps best remembered from Julia Roberts’ 1997 film ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding.’

“Dermot has a dry sense of humor. He is fantastic as an actor. He totally put his heart and soul in a role that required him to be less than his usual handsome leading man,” Vivi describes. Dermot is reunited with his ‘About Schmidt’ costar Hope Davis who plays the mother and his wife Bunnie.

“Hope is aware of her talents and she has an enormous scale as an actor. She took the young actors under her wing. She says that once you have made a movie together, you are like family members with them for the rest of your life.”

Dermot Mulroney and Hope Davis in 'The Family Tree'

Brittany Robertson, Max Thieriot and Jane Seymor complete the Burnett family as the teenage daughter, son, and grandmother.

“Jane is fantastic. She appears at the end of the film in a scene that requires her to cry. When we were discussing that, Jane asked, if I wanted her to cry from the left eye, from the right eye or from both eyes.”

Chy McBride plays Bunnie’s neighbor and lover. He agreed to show an intimate body shot for the film.

“Chy said that he would rather not appear naked. I said that I just want to show your ass. He replies, oh that? Go ahead, it’s in good shape!”

The featured cast is also full of familiar names. Keith Carradine is the gum-chewing, gun-toting priest. Christina Hendricks of the TV series Mad Men is cast in a similar office manager’s role. Selma Blair portrays a lesbian teacher.

“Selma is just as wild in real life as in her roles. She is an incredibly wonderful person. She questions everything but agrees to everything as well.”

The premiere night at the Laemmle 5 Theater in West Hollywood attracted a great audience who applauded enthusiastically at the end.

Vivi Friedman

VIVI FRIEDMAN

Family background: Vivi was born in Helsinki in 1967. She spent her childhood years in Nummela, Southern Finland. Her brother Sami works for the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE).

Education: University of Rochester, NY, UCLA, CA. Career: Started making TV commercials in 1989. Has made spots for Aktia Bank, Asuntopörssi (a real-estate company), Lumene (cosmetics) and Valio (dairy products). Directed a short subject ‘Certainly Not a Fairytale’ in 2003.

Vivi Friedman

Personal life: Vivi is in a relationship with Steven Kaminsky, a post-production supervisor.

‘The Family Tree’ movie trailer:

Links:

http://www.thefamilytreemovie.com/ (Official website)

http://www.vivifriedman.com/

 

FINNISH-BORN VIVI FRIEDMAN’S DEBUT FEATURE FILM ‘THE FAMILY TREE’

Vivi Friedman by Jonny Kahleyn

Vivi Friedman at the LA premiere of 'The Family Tree'

REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – WEST HOLLYWOOD
PREMIERE PHOTOGRAPHS BY JONNY KAHLEYN/TOMI HINKKANEN

Finnish Vivi Friedman’s first feature film ‘The Family Tree’ premiered on the big screen last weekend in Los Angeles and New York. The film boasts a star-studded cast: Dermot Mulroney, Hope Davis, Chy McBride, Selma Blair, Jane Seymour, and others. Vivi Friedman is not yet a household name, but she is well-known in the advertising world. The 43-year-old director has had a long career in TV commercials. She has directed spots for both Finnish and international companies and is represented by an agency in Germany. In America, ad agencies don’t seem to bother much with subterfuge while European TV commercials often tell a clever little story with a twist (revealing the advertised product or service at the end). Vivi became known for these kinds of story-driven commercials. Vivi Friedman came to the United States 20 years ago. She studied at Rochester University in New York and at UCLA in Los Angeles. However, she admits that school was not really something for her and that she got most of her training in the field. In Hollywood, Vivi familiarized herself with the production process of American movie-making by taking on production assistant jobs here and there. Then she made a short film called ‘Certainly Not a Fairytale’.

Vivi Friedman directs Dermot Mulroney and Hope Davis

“My agent sent copies of the my film to various producers and agencies, and one of the recipients was screenwriter Mark Lisson’s manager who was looking for a director for Mark’s script. I then met with Mark and we got along great. That’s how it all started,” Vivi recalls. Along with the writer, Allan Jones produced. Alan didn’t divulge the exact budget amount, but said it cost less than five million dollars to make. The Ohio-based movie was actually filmed in Los Angeles in 2008. The tight budget allowed for only 25 days of shooting.

‘The Family Tree’ is a dark comedy about a family in crisis. The parents are on the brink of a divorce, the teenage son is mixed up with a fundamentalist church and its gun-worshipping pastor, and the daughter struggles with her sexuality. The Burnetts get a second chance when the mother (played by Hope Davis) loses her memory due to a head concussion and starts believing that everything is fine with the family. This reboot starts the chaotic sorting out of the whole family mess.

Vivi Friedman at the LA premiere of 'The Family Tree'

Before the cameras were able to start rolling, Vivi had to ‘sell’ her film to some top Hollywood names. With the help of a good casting director, she succeeded in attracting a stellar cast to her first directorial effort. The first one hired was Dermot Mulroney for the role of Jack Burnett, the husband and father of the family. Mulroney is perhaps best remembered from Julia Roberts’ 1997 film ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding.’

“Dermot has a dry sense of humor. He is fantastic as an actor. He totally put his heart and soul in a role that required him to be less than his usual handsome leading man,” Vivi describes. Dermot is reunited with his ‘About Schmidt’ costar Hope Davis who plays the mother and his wife Bunnie.

“Hope is aware of her talents and she has an enormous scale as an actor. She took the young actors under her wing. She says that once you have made a movie together, you are like family members with them for the rest of your life.”

Dermot Mulroney and Hope Davis in 'The Family Tree'

Brittany Robertson, Max Thieriot and Jane Seymor complete the Burnett family as the teenage daughter, son, and grandmother.

“Jane is fantastic. She appears at the end of the film in a scene that requires her to cry. When we were discussing that, Jane asked, if I wanted her to cry from the left eye, from the right eye or from both eyes.”

Chy McBride plays Bunnie’s neighbor and lover. He agreed to show an intimate body shot for the film.

“Chy said that he would rather not appear naked. I said that I just want to show your ass. He replies, oh that? Go ahead, it’s in good shape!”

Vivi Friedman at the LA premiere of 'The Family Tree' by Jonny Kahleyn

Vivi Friedman at the LA premiere of 'The Family Tree'

The featured cast is also full of familiar names. Keith Carradine is the gum-chewing, gun-toting priest. Christina Hendricks of the TV series Mad Men is cast in a similar office manager’s role. Selma Blair portrays a lesbian teacher.

“Selma is just as wild in real life as in her roles. She is an incredibly wonderful person. She questions everything but agrees to everything as well.”

The premiere night at the Laemmle 5 Theater in West Hollywood attracted a great audience who applauded enthusiastically at the end.

Vivi Friedman at the LA premiere of "The Family Tree'

VIVI FRIEDMAN

Family background: Vivi was born in Helsinki in 1967. She spent her childhood years in Nummela, Southern Finland. Her brother Sami works for the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE).

Education: University of Rochester, NY, UCLA, CA. Career: Started making TV commercials in 1989. Has made spots for Aktia Bank, Asuntopörssi (a real-estate company), Lumene (cosmetics) and Valio (dairy products). Directed a short subject ‘Certainly Not a Fairytale’ in 2003.

Personal life: Vivi is in a relationship with Steven Kaminsky, a post-production supervisor.

‘The Family Tree’ movie trailer:

Links:

http://www.thefamilytreemovie.com/ (Official website)

http://www.vivifriedman.com/