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‘Savage Grace’ Director Tom Kalin on Julianne Moore’s Incest Scene

Kalin at Saturday's screening of Savage Grace.Photo: Getty Images


Savage Grace, which played at Tribeca Film Festival over the weekend, is based on the true tabloid story of eccentric socialite Barbara Daly Baekland — who was murdered by her son Tony in their London flat in 1972. Among the litany of the film's family dysfunctions (drug and alcohol abuse, the crazies), the troubled mother (played by Julianne Moore) and son (Eddie Redmayne) dabbled in incest, which the film addresses head on. At a private dinner at LIVEStyle's Supper Club on Saturday, director Tom Kalin (Swoon) admitted "it's a tough subject matter, and we live in a puritanical society." After about a decade of on-and-off interest — Andrew Lloyd Webber's production company was once attached! — Kalin, along with producer Christine Vachon, got the project off the ground once ever-ballsy Julianne Moore signed on.

"The actors really rolled up their sleeves, got to work, and trusted me," Kalin said when we asked if anyone was initially squeamish about this ultimate-taboo project. "My point of view was not about shocking the audience, but about trying to understand and to have a certain amount of empathy." But what about filming, you know, the incest-sex scene? "There's so much sex in the film, that really when I think about how I worked, I never made a distinction of like 'Oh God, today I'm shooting a sex scene!' … Sex is behavior, it's communication between two people." Even between mother and son? "[It] was a really complicated, destructive way they communicated," he allowed.

We wondered, delicately, how Kalin, who grew up the youngest of eleven in an Irish-Catholic brood, talks about his movie to his own mother. "My mother has Alzheimer's. She's about 88 and would not remember the movie if she saw it, heartbreakingly," Kalin said, cheerfully. At this point, we felt completely awful for broaching the topic, and for making an incest conversation even more awkward than it already was. But the unoffendable Kalin continued: "In a funny way, I have to say, that's kind of a relief! Because, my poor mother! My family really has been so supportive of the tough work I do. If my mother was lucid, she'd see the movie and support it." Phew. —Justin Ravitz

See New York's complete coverage of the Tribeca Film Festival here!