Baby Boom Memories from Charles Shyer
Twilight Time makes a special delivery of Baby Boom (1987) this week on hi-def Blu-ray, and in the nearly 30 years since it arrived in theaters that fall, it remains a still vivid and wonderful experience for its director Charles Shyer, who co-wrote this marvelous comedy touchstone with Nancy Meyers (both pictured below). Shyer, who also counts among his writing and/or directing credits Private Benjamin, Irreconcilable Differences, Father of the Bride and its sequel, and the remakes of Alfie and The Parent Trap, here shares with TT a conversation he had with the film’s star Diane Keaton after filming wrapped in early 1987.
SHYER: What attracted you to Baby Boom?
DIANE KEATON: When I read the screenplay I wanted to do it immediately. It was so funny. I read it on an airplane when I was flying to location for Crimes of the Heart and I was laughing all the way. People were staring at me. I thought the script was so good. Funny and smart.
SHYER: It’s been a long time since you’ve done comedy.
KEATON: Yeah and I love comedy. I’d love to do a really broad comedy, the kind where you fall down a lot, get things thrown in your face. I’d love that.
SHYER: Kind of like I Love Lucy?
KEATON: Yeah, I’d love that.
SHYER: How difficult was it working with a 14-month-old co-star?
KEATON: Working with the babies? I mean, they’re so completely unpredictable. They keep you so loose and relaxed and totally alert too, because you never know what they are going to do.
SHYER: They have no idea you’re making a movie. That the Assistant Director is checking his watch, saying “Charles, we gotta move on.”
KEATON: None. Zero. They could care less what the A.D. is saying.
SHYER: Was there a difference working with one twin over the other?
KEATON: Oh yeah. They were complete opposites. Kristina does all of the active parts in the movie, she sort of does all the “bits” and Michelle kind of excels in crying and sleeping and cuddling.
SHYER: I felt when we met Kristina and Michelle Kennedy that they took to you immediately.
KEATON: I felt relaxed with those babies. We were compatible, we liked each other. And that was after seeing how many babies?
SHYER: I think in Los Angles we interviewed over 200 sets of twins and in New York…I mean, I don’t know…it must have been well over 100. Insane. But I felt when we met Kristina and Michelle – they took to you immediately. And you see it in the film. There’s a real bond between you and Elizabeth.
KEATON: But we had no idea what we were in for. I mean, didn’t you shoot a million feet of film?
SHYER: More. Actually, more than Gone with the Wind.
KEATON: You know, I remember the first day on set you kind of spooked them.
SHYER: Yeah. Right. They were brought into a room and suddenly 40 strangers are crowded around them, sticking cameras and sound booms in their faces. It must have been beyond strange from their tiny point of view.
KEATON: But they adjusted pretty quickly don’t you think?
SHYER: You know, when Nancy and I wrote this script, we gave the character of Elizabeth so much stuff to do. We wanted her to be a full character, not a prop. We had no concept of how difficult it would be to pull these “bits” – as we called them – off. When you’re writing, it’s kind of a separate reality. So simple on paper…I mean, remember in Vermont, when we tried to get the baby to fall asleep?
KEATON: In the scene where I kiss her goodnight?
SHYER: Right. We thought we were so clever – we arranged to shoot the scene at the baby’s nap time, but on that day, she wasn’t tired. After about two hours of waiting and grumbling, we decided to turn off all the lights and play lullabies on the cassette player. I remember thinking how crazy this is, all these grownups standing in a pitch black room, waiting for a baby to fall asleep. Of course when we turned the lights on a half-hour later the baby was wide awake.
KEATON: Wasn’t the soundman was fast asleep?
SHYER: Totally. I think that’s when the studio decided to fly East and pay us a visit.
KEATON: And you know, what was great, whenever you’d say, “Cut,” Kristina would applaud. I don’t know, I guess the best thing about working with a baby for me was, that it was great for me to be distracted. It forces you out of your own obsession. You don’t know what the f… they’re going to do – which forces you to be totally in the moment. And every single take was different. Once in a lifetime experience.
SHYER: Finally, what about working with Sam Shepard?
KEATON: My feeling about Sam Shepard is that he makes so little seem like so much. He’s just there and he’s so completely natural. He sometimes makes you feel like…how can anybody be so fascinating and yet be so simple. He’s so simple. It’s like an acting lesson to work with him don’t you think?
SHYER: Completely agree. I remember him saying to me early on, “Show me exactly what you want me to do.” I said, you mean, “Act it out for you?” He said “Yes.” So I did that for every scene. And then he did pretty much what I did – except infinitely better.
KEATON: I totally get that. It was cool that you did that for him. He will make it all his own, always. Totally honest and real, he will not lie, he’s incapable of lying and I think that’s an incredible quality. Don’t you agree?