With a beloved actor-turned director in David Schwimmer and a major movie star leading man in Clive Owen, you could easily predict smiling faces going into the Toronto International Film Festival screenings of Trust, the ex-Friends star's second feature film.
But considering the film's story of a family torn apart by a serial pedophile's assault on their 14-year old daughter (newcomer Liana Liberato), I ask Schwimmer if he's worried about slightly more depressed looks on the faces of the audience coming out.
Schwimer lets out a startled, curt laugh: "Oh man, I hadn't thought about that until you just brought it up! It's hard…I guess what I would say is I hope there's a moment where people digest—and think about—what they just saw. I don't know if it'll be an awkward silence, but I do hope people really kind of take it in."
But Schwimmer didn't want to make a cliché movie-of-the-week designed to scare upper middle class parents. "I've been working on the script for seven years and there were several things…that I wanted to bring up in the allotted time. One of them is the commodity of sex and how sexuality is portrayed in the media, especially the sexualization of young girls and boys. So that's in there in Clive's character's job in advertising.
"But I think it was really important to take a family that was pretty healthy. They work hard, but they're not struggling. They're informed, they're educated, they're present parents, the kids are great, it's a healthy, happy, normal family. It was important for me to start with that because my message really is if this can happen to this family, think about all the families that aren't as informed or educated or well-off, where it's harder…"
Yet it's not all doom-and-gloom. Ask Schwimmer about his cast of Oscar nominees—Owen, Catherine Keener and Viola Davis—and new talent Liberato and his face lights up: "I still can't believe I got those three actors. And then this find with Liana. I mean, three Academy Award nominated actors and each of them took this on for very personal reasons. They were doing it for the right reasons, certainly not for the money…"
Even so, finding the right balance—of the true horror of sexual assault without somehow overdoing its depiction on-screen—was a challenge for Schwimmer.
"I think I just have to trust my own taste meter about how far to push it, how graphic to be," he says. "There's no nudity in the film; in the rape scene in particular, I actually think it's more disturbing that it's not violent. That to me is more disturbing. I really had to trust how far I had to push it. And I don't know if I'm right. Frankly, every time I watch the movie, I think I could have gone farther. I could have pushed it. I'll never be able to watch it without thinking of 100 things I could have done better. But I had to stop at some point. I had to stop editing, and I had to stop shooting. That's the nature of the beast."
With Trust having occupied so much of his time—and coming from a fairly dark place—I ask Schwimmer what he does to break out of the doom-and-gloom, "Hanging with my lady and laughing and going for dinner and a movie and playing poker with some buddies," he says. "You know, exercising is good. We stopped post-production on (Trust) six weeks ago, so it's just in the last six weeks I feel like I've got my head above water."
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