Someone had to ask the question: What was it like for Jennifer Aniston to act without makeup, and to see herself look like hell onscreen? “I actually found it quite awesome and liberating, to tell you the truth,” Aniston told the audience after the premiere of her new movie, Cake. “It was sort of a big deal, personally, for me to expose that, because I think we’re all very, you know, concerned with how we look on a 50-foot screen.”
Just how far does Aniston go in shedding her vanity? Let’s put it this way: Cake is her Monster*, even if the plot isn’t as intriguing as the risks Aniston is taking. Aniston isn’t just sans makeup in this movie; she’s caked in a foundation that makes her face look greasy and jaundiced. White, puffy scars run across her chin and her cheek and her forehead, hinting at a trauma that will slowly reveal itself. Her hair is unwashed, her clothes the baggy khaki-linen variety of a woman who’s just given up.
Many at this festival were hoping Cake would be a return to Aniston’s Good Girl days, and it is a gritty independent movie — but it’s not very funny. Aniston plays Claire, an understandably cranky woman who uses an addiction to Oxycodone and Percocet to combat her chronic pain and dull some deep emotional wounds. The only levity comes from Claire’s misadventures in hunting down pain meds, with the help of her loyal housekeeper, played by Adriana Barraza, and from the hallucinations she has about a friend from her chronic-pain support group, Nina (Anna Kendrick), who recently committed suicide. The group wants to talk about the anger they feel towards Nina; Claire is more interested in discussing the gory details of how Nina died — how she threw herself off an overpass on an L.A. freeway, landed on a furniture truck bound for Mexico, and wasn’t discovered for a week, at which point her body was sent back to her husband (Sam Worthington) in a Rubbermaid container that got lost at customs. Claire doesn’t get invited back to the support group.
Choosing to do the project, Aniston told the crowd, was a “no-brainer” as soon as she read the script by newcomer Patrick Tobin. “As I was reading it, I actually saw myself doing it. It just felt like it was already happening, and it was pretty easy to say yes,” said Aniston. “I thought the character was such a beautiful, complex, layered, tortured character. I don’t know, I just tapped into something with Claire I felt instantly connected to.”
To prepare, she spent a month and a half talking to people who suffer from chronic pain or are experts in chronic pain. “I have a beautiful friend who’s actually my stand-in and stunt double. She basically had her leg shredded by a boat propeller and went through extreme chronic pain and had an addiction to these drugs, so I was able to talk to her,” said Aniston. “I was able to talk to my shrink.” Through them, she literally learned how to walk the walk of someone who finds it extremely hard to move. “The physicality was the hardest thing for me,” said Aniston, so during filming, she wore a brace every day so she could never slouch. (Claire’s pain is so bad, she can’t even ride in a car sitting up.)
On the red carpet, all anyone wanted to talk about was Aniston’s form-fitting little black dress; the giant diamond engagement ring she had on her finger; or her other accessory, fiancé Justin Theroux, who’d come to the premiere as her date. Before the movie began, director Daniel Barnz asked the theater to wish a happy birthday to his 13-year-old daughter and asked Aniston to video the moment on his phone, which she gamely did. A line of photographers stood at the front of the theater, snapping away so long during the introduction that the audience started yelling out, “Get down!” “You want us to get down?” Aniston asked and crouched down. It was a simple motion that would have been hard to make when she was still walking Claire’s walk. Going through the motions of someone who has chronic pain is actually painful — “It actually becomes real,” Aniston explained. But she’s finally getting the pep back into her step. “I’m just out of it now,” said Aniston. “It took a long time.”
* This title has been corrected.