BEGINNERS is based on writer/director Mike Mills’ experience of having his father come out as gay when he became a widower after forty years of marriage. The film is fictionalized, the father is Hal, played by Christopher Plummer, the son is Oliver, played by McGregor, as far as the details go, but is emotionally true enough to have made me curious about how much Mills used his grief over his father’s death to fuel his storytelling. He and McGregor were both effusive in their praise of co-stars Plummer, and, in a different but not less enthusiastic way, about Cosmo, the Jack Russell terrier who gives a surprisingly moving performance as the dog Oliver inherits when Hal passes away. When we started the interview, though, with McGregor explaining why, even though he has made films from many genres, he has never appeared in a horror film.
BEGINNERS is a moving comedy inspired by actual events in Mills’ life about the journey we all take towards living an authentic life. For some people that journey is longer than for others, as in the case of Hal Fields, a retired museum curator who, after the death of his wife of over 40 years, comes out as gay to his only son, Oliver, played by McGregor. Knocked for a loop, but unconditionally supportive, Oliver is then confronted with Hal’s diagnosis of terminal cancer. Told in emotional, but not entirely chronological order, the film follows Oliver as he embarks on a new relationship with a silent stranger, comes to terms with losing his father so soon after finally getting to know him, and forms a philosophically co-dependent relationship with his late father’s dog, Arthur. The film stars Christopher Plummer as Hal, Goran Visnjic as Andy, Hal’s much younger but deeply devoted boyfriend, Melanie Laurent as Anna, the silent stranger who finds her voice if not her bearings, Mary Page Keller as Oliver’s strikingly original but melancholy mother, and Cosmo as Arthur, the Jack Russell terrier that speaks but doesn’t talk.. Mills is a graphic artist as well as a filmmaker whose previous work includes a wry look at suburbia with THUMBSUCKER, and the acceptance of depression as a medical condition in JAPAN with DOES YOUR SOUL HAVE A COLD . McGregor, when not serving The Force in the Star Wars saga, has been a calligraphy enthusiast in Peter Greenaways’s PILLOW BOOK, sang his heart out in Baz Lurhman’s MOULIN ROUGE, was romanced by Jim Carrey in I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS, and with pal Charley Boorman has taken motorcycles where none have gone before.