ROCCA: In making this movie, did you ever think, "Oh, what would it have been like if I were in this family?"
KOPPLE: If I had been in this family, I don't know if I would've fared as well as Mariel had fared. I mean, she's just gone out of her way to help other people who are afflicted by mental illness, suicide. She lived her ideals.
She could've gone in the same direction as her sisters and her family. But I think she consciously didn't want to do it. She wanted to be the good girl. She wanted to be the person that took care of people. Her mother had cancer, and she took care of her mother. She fed her, she took care of her.
ROCCA: You must have some impression of her before you met her, based on her movies and her public persona.
KOPPLE: Well, the interesting thing is that, whenever I'm asked to do a film, I let everything out of my mind that is about somebody.
ROCCA: You clean the hard drive?
KOPPLE: I do. Like, when I did the film on Mike Tyson, he was in jail for the rape of Desiree Washington. "Do you wanna do a film on Mike Tyson?" I just-- "Yes, I do." And I just let everything clear out, 'cause I wanna start from the beginning. I wanna let people bloom and just be who they are and what they are and just set the stage where they're so totally comfortable that we can see who they are as people.
ROCCA: So you didn't have a preconception.
ROCCA: I don't know who said it, the idea that, the the harder you try to run from your family, the more likely you'll go right back to it? But maybe this is a lesson that you can't escape? Is her life a lesson that you CAN escape the demons in your family?
KOPPLE: Well, I don't know if she's escaping the demons of her family. I think she's just trying to understand them and talk about them. And for her, she has her own demons. I mean, she has suicidal thoughts and she's been depressed and she used to do very wild things. I mean, she enrolled in Overeaters, for example, and she was eating huge bowls of salad. And the Overeaters had to tell her, "You can't stay here." You know, they had people that were eating ice cream, cake. And she said, "I can't stop eating salad. I just eat bowls and bowls of salad."
ROCCA: And they were telling her, "That's not a big problem."
KOPPLE: Right. But for her it was.
ROCCA: You chronicled people who have struggles, people without the material wealth of the Hemingways. How would you describe the Hemingway struggle?
KOPPLE: I think the Hemingway struggle is inner struggle. It's the struggle to get up every morning, to feel good, to be productive, and to allow yourself to go into spaces that you've never been before. A journey that you've never before. Mariel going to see her sister Muffet was a huge thing for her, 'cause she hadn't seen her in years.
ROCCA: And she admits she doesn't like going to visit. I mean, she wants to be the person who visits her sister, but she's very honest.
KOPPLE: Yeah. It's very painful for her and very difficult for her. When she was young, Muffet would be "away at school," she was told. But actually, she wasn't; she was in mental facilities that had bars on the windows. And Mariel would always look up and say, "This is really weird. Why do they have bars on the school?" So she never really knew what her sister was going through until she was in her teens and her 20s.
ROCCA: There are several moments in the movie that I found almost jarring, when Mariel says that Margaux was stupid. I mean, boy, it sets you back. And you on the other side of the camera were you just kind of, like, "Wow."
KOPPLE: Being on the other side of the camera when she said that was so interesting because she, Mariel, has led me into different places that maybe I wouldn't have gone with her. And I think the most touching and moving part of that was when she said, "I thought she was stupid, 'cause really what I thought was that I was stupid. And I never finished high school." So I guess she was trying to push her sister away.
ROCCA: Do you think that there is-- a suicidally-depressive gene in this family?
KOPPLE: Yes. (laughs) I think there is. I mean, every single one of them has gone through it.
ROCCA: If you go back and read Hemingway again now, will you read it differently?
KOPPLE: Oh, I'll read Hemingway so differently. And also looking at his relationships, for example, with other people, like Gary Cooper, who would've ever thought that Hemingway and Gary Cooper were best friends? And yet they didn't really talk about their lows. They just went through it by hunting and fishing and writing things for each other and acting, but never talking about the personal and the demons inside. But yes, Mariel was able to do that.
ROCCA: When you go back and read him again, [would you] read it with more sympathy or understanding or . . . ?
KOPPLE: I'll read it because I feel like I'm part of it. I feel like I've seen underneath and I won't be reading it just for the story. I'll also be reading it to glean and to see who he was as a person. And what his thoughts were about, how he dealt with women, how he dealt with bull fighters. And I'll just look at it.
ROCCA: I wonder, gosh, if his parents had loved him more, maybe he would've said, "Eh, I don't need a bull fight, I'm just gonna stay home and have dinner with the family." (laughs)
KOPPLE: I doubt it.
KOPPLE: I mean, I think it was also him proving his manliness and being bigger than life. And a lot of times, you know, when you have so much pain and so much suffering, you have to try to find other outlets so that people don't know about it.