When Lee Toland Krieger first saw the script for The Age of Adaline, he knew it was out of reach. He’d just finished making The Vicious Kind–his first proper feature, starring a pre-Party Down, pre-Parks & Recreation Adam Scott–and had been shown the script by producer Dan Cohen at a general meeting around 2009.
“He just said, ‘Listen, they’re making this movie with another filmmaker, but you should read this, because it’s a great script,’” Krieger recalls. “And I read it that night, and fell head over heels for it.”
Krieger kept Adaline in the back of his mind as his career developed; he followed up The Vicious Kind in 2012 with the microbudget Rashida Jones vehicle Celeste and Jesse Forever, which the actress co-wrote, and found himself in a position where he could get another meeting.
“The producers saw it two years later and said, ‘We like this film, and we know this filmmaker’s in love with Adaline, and since they were still kind of kicking tires on putting it together, they agreed to sit down with me,” Krieger says.
With nearly five years of ideas about how he’d make The Age of Adaline built up, Krieger unloaded a vision for the film that impressed the producers he met with enough that they agreed to watch a mood reel that he put together–five minutes of clips from other films, stills, touchstones, and newsreel footage to sell a tonal and visual mood for the picture–after which the studio was on board.
Getting handed the project that you dreamed of is a hell of an opportunity, but it’s not one that comes without challenges. Krieger made Celeste and Jesse Forever for $840,000, and The Vicious Kind for far less than that. The budget for The Age of Adaline was in the neighborhood of $25 million. The studio was taking a chance on Krieger–so how do you deliver when getting your dream creative opportunity also includes proving that you’re ready for it?
The Age of Adaline stars Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, and Harrison Ford as the points in an unusual love triangle: Lively stars as Adaline, a woman who was born in 1908, but who stopped aging at 29 years old. Ford plays one of the lovers she had in the 1960s, while Huisman plays his son in contemporary times, who encounters Adaline by chance. The concept of a romance that spans nearly a century, with a protagonist whose eternal youth comes at the cost of being unable to have normal relationships, is one with dramatic potential, and it’s easy to see why Krieger was so compelled by the script.
“Of the three movies I’ve made, it’s probably the closest to what was on the page,” Krieger says when asked how close the film Age of Adaline is to the version that he read six years ago. He mentions some minor differences–the film is set in San Francisco rather than New York, with the 1908 earthquake offering a parallel Krieger found fascinating–but he was determined to keep true to the source.
“One thing that I shared with the producers, Harrison, and Blake is that we all really loved the material, and so I think we were all a bit nervous about meddling too much,” Krieger says. “It was a fairly precious thing for us.”
Several directors and stars had been attached to the project before it got to Krieger–both Katherine Heigl and Natalie Portman had been involved with the role of Adaline before Krieger came on board–but, he says, it was a blank slate when he finally came in two years ago.
“As a director, that’s generally the most ideal circumstance, because for me, as a young director, when you have to audition for an actor, it sets a weird dynamic,” Krieger says. “That’s common, and it often works out great, but for me, I’m always a little hesitant to go down that road, because it essentially says to the actor, ‘You’re steering the ship here.’ And this was my first shot at something bigger.”
Choosing Blake Lively to carry the film appealed to Krieger on a few levels. “What was exciting for me about Blake is–obviously everyone knows she’s beautiful. Everyone knows that she commands the screen. We’ve seen her do great turns like in The Town and Savages, but have we really seen her do this kind of tour de force leading performance? For me, that was exciting versus someone I’ve seen do this kind of movie before. I want to surprise people a bit.”
Similarly, Krieger knew that Huisman–who has been attracting a lot of attention for a series of roles on The Game of Thrones, Orphan Black, Nashville, Treme, and more on TV–was ready to take on a proper leading man movie star role. And there was no one else he saw for the character of William than Harrison Ford. “Maybe the casting directors had made a list, but I never saw it, because I just told them that it’s Harrison or bust,” he says.
There’s one unique challenge that comes with casting a young Harrison Ford that Krieger had to take head-on: Namely, that we all remember exactly what young Harrison Ford looked and sounded like. So when the film flashes back to the moments that his character enjoyed with Adaline in the ’60s, Krieger had to find someone who could deliver.
Krieger took a chance in casting Anthony Ingruber, a young actor whose filmography is dotted with short films and bit roles on Canadian television–but whose primary claim to fame is an uncanny Harrison Ford impression video on YouTube. That’s a tricky way to cast an actor, and Krieger was determined to find out if Ingruber could deliver.
“Obviously the look is uncanny. I got goosebumps watching him,” Krieger says. “Then that feeling was immediately that I can’t have someone doing an impersonation, necessarily. There’s a fine line when you’re doing something like this. And we reached out to Anthony and found out very quickly that not only does he do Harrison impersonations. He’s like the biggest Harrison Ford fan on the planet.”
Krieger admits that casting someone who’s been Indiana Jones every Halloween since he was six years old was a risk, but it was one he was interested in exploring. “It worried me a little bit that he would fall into something that felt more like an impersonation, or even worse, like a caricature of Harrison,” Krieger says. “I needed this guy to perform. He put himself on tape and it was just killer–‘Let’s dial Harrison back. Let’s just perform. It’s already in you. You already look it.’ His speaking voice is like Harrison’s. He’s not putting that on. I’m really proud of the results.”
Krieger says that after Ford saw the movie, the first thing he did was call him up and say, “Anthony Ingruber is a miracle,” and it’s one that other people have noticed: Krieger has fielded questions about the visual effects needed to create a young Harrison Ford from film classes and reporters, but, he says, “It’s 100% Anthony.”
Krieger is frank when discussing the idea of taking on a bigger project for the first time. “Most of the movies I tend to go after–and I think this is common for most filmmakers, unless you’re Fincher, Nolan, or P.T.A.–you’re always trying to get a project that’s a little bit out of your reach. So for me, not only was this a bigger movie, but it had the kind of scope that I’d never [worked with]–it’s got lots of period work. We’re seeing a lot of eras between 1908 and 2015. It was great for me to be able to step into something where I had 39 days to shoot, instead of 20. The time and the toys to bring a vision to life, it was a huge honor.”
Coming off of Celeste and Jesse Forever, Krieger knew that he wanted his next project to be one that had a larger scope–something where he could bring a vision to the project.
“What I learned from Celeste and Jesse, and why I wanted to take this on, was that I was much more interested in creating a world than I had thought. I’m proud of my other movies, but they’re talking-head movies, and while I like talking-head movies, as I got a little bit older and more comfortable with the camera, I discovered that I really wanted the ability to create a world,” Krieger says.
And that vision was important as the project developed. Working on a film with a $25 million budget is very different from working on one with an $840,000 budget in a few very important ways. “If you’re not really firm about your point of view, you’re going to get moved,” he says. “You’re going to get steamrolled. It might be a producer. It might be an actor. It might be the studio. It might be all of the above. You’ve got to come in super-prepared, and you’ve got to be willing to draw a line in the sand.”