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Sand in His Lens

Tod Williams’s wary take on the Hamptons.


Tod Williams  

In the eerie film The Door in the Floor, adapted from the John Irving novel A Widow for One Year, an ego-addled writer (Jeff Bridges) lives the Hamptons dream life—scribbling books, persuading housewives to pose for nude portraits, and playing squash in his converted barn. Meanwhile, his wife (Kim Basinger), devastated by the death of their two sons, slips into an affair with his young assistant. Logan Hill spoke to director Tod Williams.

You don’t seem to have great love for the Hamptons.
I think the movie makes the Hamptons look and feel like the most seductive place in the world, and then it rots before your eyes.

But didn’t you enjoy filming there?
No! Usually people are happy when a movie crew comes to town. But in the Hamptons, everyone’s annoyed. You just feel like a bum. Like a beggar. You can’t afford to buy food for your crew.

You know the area well enough to resent it?
Actually, I grew up in that area a little bit. My dad [also Tod Williams] was a young architect. He’d be out there working on a site, and we’d kind of camp out. We even slept in the back of Loaves and Fishes, back when it was a bakery.

So you picked up on some details.
The house we shot in, it’s like the perfect fantasy Hamptons house. It’s on the market for $20 million, but it’s not even insulated. It takes a helluva lot of money to achieve that kind of casual, bohemian-slash-preppy thing.

How do you show that onscreen?
People in other parts of the country might not get it. There’s no Ferrari in the driveway—there’s a beat-up Volvo. But he has this enormous $400 piece of cheese.

Were you referencing Lizzie Grubman in that scene where a spurned housewife tries to back over Bridges in her Mercedes?
Of course.

There’s plenty of sex in this film—Kim Basinger sex, even—but it’s creepy.
Yeah, it’s an encyclopedia of bad sex—I wouldn’t want to have any of the sex in my film. Except maybe with the babysitter [Bijou Phillips]—but all her sex is offscreen.

Did you know about Basinger’s abusive relationship with Alec Baldwin and their split?
No. But I guess she lived with Alec three doors down from where we shot, and she had not been back to the Hamptons since.

I don’t generally admire Basinger’s acting, but I’ve got to admit she was convincingly wrecked.
I do think Kim really brought a piece of herself to this part, and a lot of other parts might not make sense for her to do that. This sounds stupid, but I’d look at her eyes sometimes, and get all choked up.

And the Jeff Bridges character seems like the classic ego-freak writer. John Irving?
Well, I was looking at old photos of Julian Schnabel and Peter Beard wearing saris in the Hamptons. They were macho, bohemian, and wealthy. Ted Cole wishes he were those guys.

But Irving’s story has to be a little autobiographical, right?
John and I talked a lot about his books, which often ask for sympathy for characters we would normally disrespect. But this is one of the guys he really gives a tough time.

Maybe you’re toughest on the people who remind you of yourself. Maybe when he wrote the novel, he could have imagined that if he were going to go to hell, he could have gone to hell like this.

The writer is an absurd mentor to his assistant. Did you ever have a mentor?
The closest thing is my dad. We talk about similarities in our professions because neither is a pure art form: You deal with a ton of money, you work with maybe 100 craftspeople. You design something in private and build it in public. Also you’ve got to figure out where on the scale between pure architecture and commercial crap you are comfortable.

Where is that for you?
My father designed the American Folk Art Museum on 53rd Street. I’d like to be the equivalent of that: modest, surprising, hidden. A mix of high qualities and low profile. But not too low-profile.


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