Disney has provided me with an expense paid trip to Los Angeles for the #StarWarsEvent in exchange for my coverage of the events of the trip. No other compensation is given. The opinions and experiences in my posts are 100% mine. You can read my full disclosure policy here.
#StarWarsEvent coverage continues! If you’re catching up, you might want to check out my photo tour of the STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS press event, my exclusive interview with Harrison Ford (Han Solo), my exclusive interview with Daisy Ridley (Rey), and my exclusive interview with John Boyega (Finn).
Today I’m sharing my interview with Kathleen Kennedy, who is the film’s Producer and President of Lucasfilm. She is an absolute inspiration to women everywhere, especially working moms. I love what she had to say about being a real team with her husband to balance their family and their careers. She is so smart, brilliant at her filmmaking craft, and is really down to earth and easy to talk to, too.
Some of her answers are longer than other interviews I shared but I hope you’ll take a minute to read through them. I think she speaks so thoughtfully and really answers the question by providing a lot of background. And some of the tidbits she shares (like Rogue One filming ending on December 18!) are really interesting too.
Enjoy the interview! (Thank you to Louise from Momstart.com for the photos taken during our interview.)
Q: I have a nine year old daughter who loves Star Wars. For this movie, with Rey being a prominent character, she’s so excited. Did that decision, to have a female lead, come early or later?
Kathleen: It was right from the beginning. It’s something that J.J. and I started talking about day one. It was really important to us. We both have daughters, so, very important.
Q: Regarding kids and being such a big film producer in Hollywood, do you have tips for moms that are trying to balance all of this work in life?
Kathleen: As you can imagine I get asked this all the time, and what I end up saying is that you just instinctually know how to make those choices. At least that’s what I’ve ended up doing. In the heat of the moment, I weigh what is the right thing to do. Obviously nine and a half out of the ten times it’s the family.
And you figure out what that means and then you try to find a way to have a discussion about it. I’ve been incredibly fortunate in that I have an amazing husband and we’ve both done the same thing. And for a long time, before we had kids, we worked together. Then when we had kids we started leap-frogging and it was this, sort of unspoken agreement that depending on how things were shaping up we would shift responsibilities.
And for the most part we just supported one another in that as often as we could, and then we’d make it work. And some things you just sacrifice as a consequence. But I think that that’s pretty normal in the course of trying to weigh how to handle a career in general and kids just make it more complicated. But you’re still doing the same thing.
What I’m getting at, is there’s no cookie cutter approach to here’s what you do to balance career and family. I think it’s so much the individual and where your values are and what’s important to you and, and the stage your kids are at.
Q: What is your Star Wars story? How did it start for you?
Kathleen:I was actually in film school when I saw Star Wars for the first time. So as you can imagine, it was just jaw-dropping, mind-blowing. Everybody in film school was talking about it. You realize that there was so much possible beyond anything you could imagine once we all saw that movie. So it was sort of perfectly timed. I suppose you were either seven or eight or you’re in film school. Those would be touchstones.
Q : What does Star Wars personally mean to you?
Kathleen: To me. Well, I think that what has always been very obvious to me is that George created this from a very strong personal point of view. When he made this movie New Hope in 1977, obviously he was a young man coming out of film school and had something to say.
He didn’t step into New Hope and decide that he was going to make some huge blockbuster movie that we would be sitting here 40 years later talking about. So I think that that’s what I’ve always recognized with any of the filmmakers I work with, is that the really good ones, they want to find something of themselves as a reason to tell the story. So they’re looking for something that they want to infuse into the characters and the storytelling and the emotion of the piece. J.J. did the same thing with this movie.
And as a producer, I love recognizing that in somebody and then helping to find the resources to nurture that and guide that. And when somebody can’t find that, then I get a little concerned because if somebody’s just going to go through the motions of making a movie without having that personal connection, then usually they’re not going to be able to excavate what’s emotionally powerful in Star Wars, or in any movie for that matter.
Q : I heard Bob Iger was pretty involved, which he usually is not. How often did you meet with him to go over the original script and the storyline?
Kathleen: I’ve been told this over and over again. He’s really involved. Everything. No, absolutely everything. And the fantastic thing was oftentimes when I would be in London, which is where we shot the film, you know, you always look at the clock when you’re working in London because you have a period of time where you’re sort of at ease because you just focus on getting the movie made. And then you realize L.A. is about to wake up and your whole day is going to start over again.
So at about 2:30 in the afternoon if my phone rang early, it was often Bob. He’d looked at dailies. He just wanted to check in. He was excited about something. He was absolutely involved. He’s been involved in every aspect of marketing. He’s had an absolute blast doing this with us. I think he’s really, really enjoyed it because I think how often do CEOs of a company really get to touch what’s going on, you know?
They, they see bits and pieces but they sit at 30,000 feet most of the time and I think this has been a really wonderful experience for him. And for us, by the way. He’s had lots of contributions that have been great.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about what you were doing on a day-to-day basis?
Kathleen: I have a very bifurcated life because I’m running the company and producing the movie. So even when I’m here in L.A. I would go, before we went to London, I would go up to San Francisco two days a week and then I would come back here. And then when I got to London I set up a system where I would do video conferencing and I set up the meetings on a weekly basis so that I can maintain a connection to everybody on the executive team.
So I can’t say that my day operates in any kind of a routine way. But I usually try to stay focused on the movies in the morning and then as I said, as L.A. wakes up in the afternoon I’ll move into my office and begin to make those phone calls or do those video conference connections in order to get that work done.
I don’t drive in London. I’m terrified to drive on the other side of the road, but I have a driver. As we make our way into London, the car is set up with WiFi so I sit in the back seat, open my laptop, put an earphone in my ear and start making phone calls and dealing with business. And then the hope is by the time I get home at around 8:30 – 9:00 I can pretty much stop.
Every now and then if there’s a complication somewhere I’ll be on the phone late. But I’ve gotten to the point where I can keep that pretty much under control. And this last series of months since August really, I’ve been in London doing Rogue One because Rogue One finishes shooting on December 18th. But this time my husband is doing a new Bourne series, so we brought our 16 year old, kicking and screaming I might add, to go to school in London.
She’s ended up having an absolutely fantastic time. It’s one of the best things we ever did. But that’s worked out actually quite well. And that’s affected my routine because I’ve ended up where I’ve just sort of laid down the law that when I get home we have dinner. When I get up in the morning, I go in a little bit late. I’m not there at call so I can be home when Megan is eating breakfast and get her on the bus.
The great thing about this school she’s at is the bus literally comes to the door and picks her up, which has been fantastic. It’s one of the reasons we chose the house that we’re staying in. But, you know, that’s an example of where and how things can change.
Q: What is it about J.J. Abrams that makes him the perfect director for this movie?
Kathleen: I think there are very few directors that have the bandwidth, if you will, that somebody like J.J. has. I think Steven’s an example. George is an example. There’s certain filmmakers where just who they are as a person, the exuberance, the childlike quality, the sense of humor. Just the understanding of what it is to just be delighted by entertaining stories and movies.
I think J.J.’s very definitely one of those filmmakers. He just accesses every beat of the storytelling process in a way that you feel that he’s always connected to the audience, whether they’re seven or 700. He just has that unique ability. He made it such a fun experience. He’s meticulous about story. He’s meticulous about the technical aspect of making the movie.
But he makes it a totally inclusive, really fun experience on the set. And I remember all the years I worked with Steven, he used to always say that that kind of energy in the creative process gets translated to the screen. And I think that that’s very much what J.J. does as well.
Q: What takeaway do you think this movie has for girls?
Kathleen: Without ruining the movie, I’m going to tell you that your daughters are going to be so excited. This character of Rey is, I think, one of the most wonderful heroines to come along in movie history. I mean, she is great. So I think they’re going to be very happy. They’re going to have their own Luke Skywalker now. Let’s put it that way.
Q: With Rogue One wrapping up and you have B.F.G. coming up. So what’s it like shifting gears from, from this to that?
Kathleen: The B.F.G. is something that I had spent years off and on developing. Many, many years. And I must say many, many conversations with Steven who I kept saying, “This is really right for you.” And then, of course, within I would say a month after I decided to take over Lucasfilm he called me up and he goes, “You know, I read the script again and I really want to make the movie.” And I was ready to go through the phone and strangle him.
Not only having Steven involved in this, but the fact that technology has caught up with making the film is really quite spectacular. What he’s doing with this is going to be pretty mind-blowing. And very emotional. Sadly we had Melissa Mathison pass away recently. She wrote the script and she did E.T. so I think people are going to be incredibly pleased with how this movie turns out.
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS Full Press Conference Part #2
You can hear more from Kathleen Kennedy during the press conference on the video above.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer
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— Lindsay (@SeeMomClick) December 16, 2015