Interview: Jennifer Aniston
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Jennifer Aniston's role as a chronic pain sufferer in newly released Cake is unlike any role we’ve seen her in before.
Firmly leaving the easy-watching rom-com/Rachel Green typecasting behind her, we see her struggling with addiction, grief and anger, as well as a multitude of other issues. It's not a performance that her fans have ever seen her in before, and it isn't one that we could have predicted.
Perhaps because of this her role as Claire is also the most critically acclaimed of Aniston's career, earning her Golden Globe and Screen Actor’s Guild nominations - but, perhaps surprisingly, a complete snub at the Oscars.
Claire is the survivor of a car accident, who now suffers from excruciating chronic pain. She becomes fascinated by the suicide of former chronic pain sufferer and member of her support group, Nina, played by Anna Kendrick. The film also stars U.S Shameless star William H.Macy, Avatar’s star, Sam Worthington and Academy Award nominee, Mexican actress Adriana Barraza.
When discussing Claire’s emotional responses to the situations that contributed to the mental and physical pain that she suffers throughout the film, Aniston says: “She’s a woman who's stuck, who is pretty angry at the world and at herself, and is struggling with moving on and moving forward - healing herself. She thinks she would disappoint or she's forgetting what it is that happened. And she doesn't feel, the guilt is too much. We meet her trying to, really, make a decision of whether to live or die.”
Aniston speaks about the tolls that playing Claire, whose every movement is characterised by pain, took on her body: “I don’t take stuff home," she says. "I really am good about wrap… the only thing I really took home sometimes was a lot of just physical pains in my body just from the character.”
She adds: “I just tried to figure out what was broken in Claire’s body and what didn't work, and pretty much it was everything. So there wasn't any move that she took that didn't cause some kind of pain. Even taking a deep breath was painful for her. I'm feeling pain now. Honestly… When you move that way for five days a week, six days a week, it starts to affect your body physically for sure.”
In preparation for her “creatively challenging” role, which involved the portrayal of serious emotional and physical pain, Aniston studied the effects of chronic pain by meeting members of the community. “I spoke to wonderful doctors, people suffering from chronic pain, depression, and addiction," she says. "I learned quite a deal about the chronic pain community.
“I have friends who suffer with chronic pain unfortunately, and it's devastating.”
Taking on such a challenging role was an exciting prospect to Aniston, and she made sure she did as much preparation as possible: “I knew I was going to be doing something that was really going to challenge myself and once I got into my own work, my own preparation and my own homework I really felt like I knew what I had to do. I was ready to go probably five weeks before we started shooting. I'd been working, just studying for so long.”
She underwent a physical transformation for the role, something she did not hesitate about “not even one minute," she says. "No, I was ready.” Inthe film she is almost unrecognisable, with scars on her face and no makeup.
Director Daniel Barnz said of Aniston’s transformation and his prior concerns: “While I knew that Jen was the best actress to play Claire, I also recognised the challenge of downplaying Jen’s own physical beauty.
"But my concern turned out to be completely unfounded because Jen just went for it. She was stripped down emotionally as well as physically.”
After Aniston’s success in Cake garnered her several nominations (amongst them a Golden Globe and a Screen Actor’s Guild nomination) we could be seeing more of her in more serious drama roles, as opposed to the comedy and rom-com roles that she is most associated with.
Indeed, there are lots of people she hopes to work with in the future: “There’s many, many directors that I want to work with," she says; "many actors that I want to work with… David O. Russell, Steven Soderbergh, Wes Anderson, Kathryn Bigelow... there are amazing, wonderful people out there.”
Cake is out in UK cinemas now.