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John Leguizamo, Katherine Waterston and David Ross – Adventures in Babysitting

Katherine Waterston and John Leguizamo in "The Babysitters."

Katherine Waterston and John Leguizamo in “The Babysitters.”

John Leguizamo, Katherine Waterston and David Ross

Adventures in Babysitting

by Jay S. Jacobs

The hot-button topic film The Babysitters was a low-budgeted labor of love. Written and directed by David Ross, it starts as a star-crossed infatuation story that spirals wildly out of control. A teen babysitter who has a crush on one of her clients somehow ends up a hardened high-school madame.

The movie stars John Leguizamo as Michael, a bored suburban husband who hates his job and has become bored with his wife Gail (played by Cynthia Nixon of Sex and the City). Suddenly he notices that his young babysitter Shirley has a crush on him and when a kiss gets a little out of hand he gives her a particularly big tip. When his friends find out what happened, they want a babysitter of their own, so Shirley gets some of her friends to join up. What starts as a simple way of making some college movie suddenly loses control and touches on greed, violence and drug use.

Leguizamo, who has built up a respected career in Hollywood by making such thought-provoking films as Moulin Rouge, Carlito’s Way, Summer of Sam and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar – was so impressed by the script that he became one of the producers to make sure the project came to fruition.

The role of Shirley is the movie starring debut of beautiful young stage actress Katherine Waterston, who had turned heads in the play Los Angeles. Waterston grew up around filming – her father Sam has done many movies such as The Killing Fields and has spent the last several years as DA Jack McCoy on the TV series Law and Order.

Stars John Leguizamo and Katherine Waterston and writer/director David Ross sat down with us at the Regency Hotel in New York a few days before the film’s opening to tell us about making The Babysitters.

John Leguizamo in "The Babysitters."

John Leguizamo in “The Babysitters.”

So, John, how many more movies are you going to be in [this year]?

John Leguizamo: Is that a complaint? (laughs) Because if it is, I won’t tell you.

No, we just have to anticipate the schedule… In all seriousness, this seems to be like your year.

John Leguizamo: Let’s hope it is. I’ve just got a few more.

So how different was each one?

John Leguizamo: Do you want to come to the next junket, or are you trying to cheat? (laughs) I smell a rat. Let’s talk about this one, and then when I see you at The Happening one…

What was there about this role that intrigued you?

John Leguizamo: I thought it was a great script. (motions to David Ross) He’s the writer and director of the piece, so… Not that I wouldn’t say it behind your back, anyway. (laughs) But I thought it was a great, great piece. I loved the way he was playing with morality issues. I think we live in a really strangely weird time, when morality is very questionable. People don’t know how to really behave and what’s right and what’s wrong. There don’t seem to be consequences for things. With this administration, it seems like everybody can be lawless and get away with as much as they can. It’s all right.

Well, this is coming out not that long after the Elliot Spitzer controversy. 

John Leguizamo: There are real consequences there.

Exactly.  Why do you think men will put their lives, their livelihoods and their families in danger for such an illicit thrill?

John Leguizamo: Well, a lot of people don’t think they’re going to get caught, don’t they? There’s a little bit of that: “It’s not going to be me.” But in this movie, what I liked about it was David didn’t wrap it up. He didn’t say, “This is what the code is. This is why you have to behave.” But there were consequences to everybody’s actions. What I liked about it was in the end it wasn’t the usual consequences. People didn’t go to jail. She didn’t go to jail. I wasn’t arrested. They had to live with themselves. They had to live with it, knowing that you damaged and hurt people.

David Ross: We made a very conscious choice that in the end, the consequences of having to live with yourself could be so much worse. We wanted to say that there are worse things than just getting caught. Maybe you should behave yourself. Maybe you should live well – or at least live the best you can. However that may be. Because, it’s the right thing to do, as opposed to you’re afraid of getting caught. We don’t want to preach and say, “This is the way to live. Anybody who doesn’t live up to certain standards is evil.” At the same time, I think it is important to at least try and really think about the choices you make and why you make them.

Katherine Waterston in "The Babysitters."

Katherine Waterston in “The Babysitters.”

As you conceive of your characters, where are they at five years after the movie ends?

Katherine Waterston: Something I love about the ending is that you do of course sense that there are consequences for these characters, but you don’t get to experience them. I talk a lot about something in Woody Allen movies, like [Crimes and Misdemeanors]… (chuckles) this is weird for me to reference because my dad’s in it, but you often in his films watch the character suffering through their guilt. You experience that punishment with them. In this film, you are left to wonder. You are left to wonder what will happen to them and how damaging or not damaging this will be with time. I like [that] it’s sort of left to you to decide how you feel this will effect them. I love that about it. I don’t really feel like I have an answer for what that will be for her. I love that it’s hopeful – that there is the possibility that you can get through damaging things and come out the other end. There is a sense of hope, I think. Certainly, this is a mark on her that I can’t imagine could ever really go away. It’s her introduction to sexuality, and it’s not a terribly positive one I don’t think. (chuckles again) So, I think it’s complicated.

You have quite an arc involved, you go up and down through a variety of changes – your reticence to get into the thing, then you get into it, then you have to fight it off. Can you talk about how you worked it out in your own head?

Katherine Waterston: I think that there were a couple of really simple things that I was able to follow throughout that kept me kind of grounded, despite what was going on at any moment: my love for this man and my need for control. Then I also felt like the thing that I tapped into from my personal experience of growing up was the… I’m going to be a broken record for John if I keep saying this… but the dichotomy at that agebetween being innocent and also mature. Those things living together in one person. Rather than one and then something happens and you become the other. You don’t graduate into adulthood overnight. It just happens in movies all the time and it’s bullshit. In this film, I thought something so smart about the script is that she’s constantly wavering. It gave me a lot of permission to not judge myself if in a moment I was feeling vulnerable, or scared, or confused. Not judge myself within the moment. I felt I could have authority and be confident and a woman. I felt like it gave me a lot of freedom, in a way to live in the moment as long as I was sure to be loving him and trying to control this out of control feeling.

Did you see it as a sort of role reversal? She is the child at first and at the end he sort of is…

John Leguizamo: Right. Right. Then she becomes the parent.

Katherine Waterston and John Leguizamo in "The Babysitters."

Katherine Waterston and John Leguizamo in “The Babysitters.”

Did you guys talk about it to work that out?

Katherine Waterston: Yeah…

John Leguizamo: I mean David, to his credit, had a lot of rehearsals prior to shooting. It really mapped out a lot of arcs of the characters. As [well] we talked endlessly about the sex scenes, just because that’s the type of guys we are, but…

Katherine Waterston: I’m a man, by the way… I don’t know if you guys got that memo. 

John Leguizamo: She’s a tough one.

David Ross: Made me cry like a baby.

Katherine Waterston: Every day. Off camera.

John Leguizamo: But we really wanted to map out these arcs, man, in that we really wanted them to really be in love. And the stakes are really high. He loves his wife. He loves his kids. But he falls in love and he’s got this middle-aged crisis, which we can all understand. It’s not that simplistic.

Katherine Waterston: (smiles) I can’t…

John Leguizamo: Oh, you can’t?

Katherine Waterston: We can’t all [understand a mid-life crisis]…

John Leguizamo: (laughs) We can’t all, but you will.

You will have your day!

John Leguizamo: Exactly. Don’t laugh too hard, now.

Katherine Waterston: If I make it.

John Leguizamo: I didn’t want to be in scenes that were exploitive and just gratuitous. Not that he would do that, anyway. But I didn’t want it to distract from the story. I thought the story was so powerful. I didn’t want it to be trivialized by it. So we made sure that when we did the sex scenes, it was in the audience’s mind more than what we were doing. So the perversion was in your head.

Katherine Waterston: (laughs) Hey, it’s not us! You perverts!

John Leguizamo: Which I thought made it more funny and clever that way. The only time that she is completely disrobed…

Katherine Waterston: Well, let’s not start… (laughs)

John Leguizamo: … well, halfway… is at the end, when it’s not a sexual situation. It’s more of a getting out of it. They are trying to connect. Maybe this is the only thing they really had. It wasn’t love.

Director David Ross and Katherine Waterston making "The Babysitters."

Director David Ross and Katherine Waterston making “The Babysitters.”

David Ross: Pure vulnerability at that point. Yeah, we said from the beginning that every sex scene that’s in there – especially the ones between Michael (Leguizamo’s character) and Shirley (Waterston’s character) are there for a reason other than just showing sex. There’s something different happening between their characters each time, you know? The tone of each one is just a little bit different, too. The first time, they get together because it’s kind of Shirley and Michael’s first… you know, they’re in their little fantasy world where they go to the trains and they make out – so we have music and the camera is very fluid. Of course, when Shirley actually loses her virginity in the second scene, it’s almost the opposite of what everybody imagines their first experience to be like. There is no music. It’s just kind of hand-held. We always said that the sex scenes are going to be pretty much right up here (gestures to his face) in close-up. And I’m not a big close-up guy. I feel like you have to really save those and they are always just the right moment, because their faces are so close to each other, but at the same time, there is so much that they are not saying. They’re trying to express it through the sex, but… 

John Leguizamo: Well, how brilliant is that, that you chose to do the sex scenes in close-ups, you know what I mean? Everybody else is trying to do every emotion in a close-up. You’re doing the sex scene in a close-up. I think that’s pretty incredible.

David Ross: Thanks. (They both laugh.)

John Leguizamo: I do, I feel it’s pretty incredible.

Katherine Waterston in "The Babysitters."

Katherine Waterston in “The Babysitters.”

Did you feel that you really had a handle on your power over them by the end of the film?

Katherine Waterston: Well, I don’t know about power. I think that perhaps that was more of an outcome of something that she tried to do. Tried to be powerful. Tried to control these out-of-control feelings, essentially. I feel like up until she falls in love with Michael she is able to control everything in her life. If something is uncomfortable, she can organize it. She can make it function. Then these emotions come along and happen to her that she can’t control, but it’s all she knows. What I thought about her, all she knew was to organize and control things, so everything was born out of that. Even when she’s trying to be powerful, to control these girls, I don’t think that it was ever about being powerful for her. That was just some sort of desperate tool she pulled out of some hat to try to deal with these things she wasn’t able to talk about with anybody. With him or anyone else… I think that she does sort of let go of that obsession with control by the end. That’s sort of the way the OCD aspect kind of rides on parallel to this coming of age thing. This is something that in a way has to do with her innocence, her control. Of course you can control things when everything is very simple. When you understand the world is bigger and more complicated, you realize you can’t really control everything.

You had mentioned earlier the fact that your father is an actor as well. Did growing up around it make you want to be an actor from childhood?

Katherine Waterston: Yeah. (laughs) I don’t remember not wanting to do it. But, I was a really obnoxious kid and I guess I went through a phase where I didn’t want to be like anyone else in my family. Who doesn’t, you know? So I kind of kept it a secret for a long time. But I wanted to do it.

I’m going to law school!