Interview with Michael Apted
The New York Times Magazine, Oct. 14, 2001
RM: For your new documentary project, ''Married in America,'' will you do the same thing you did in the ''7 Up'' series, in which you check in on your subjects every so often?
MA: The idea is to take nine couples who are getting married this fall and to follow their marriages over the next decade. And I've chosen them from three main areas -- the New York-New Jersey area, Alabama and the Los Angeles area -- to get as big a variety of marriages as I can, multiethnic, multifaith. The first episode will be the preparations for the wedding, ending with the wedding itself. We haven't decided how frequently we will go back.
RM: Have your plans been affected by the World Trade Center attacks?
MA: One of the couples I've already done lived right by the trade center. In fact, we filmed them going back into their apartment. They'd just come back from their honeymoon. Of the two couples we've yet to do, there's a policeman and a doctor who live in New York, so we're trying to get them at their work as it's impacted.
RM: The ''7 Up'' films are sort of an experiment, with a starting hypothesis and then results. Did you have some basic ideas about marriage at the outset?
MA: No, none at all. The only thing I wanted to do was to choose couples that I thought, in my opinion, for what that's worth, had a real shot at making it.
RM: How do you tell which ones have a shot at staying together?
MA: It's just a visceral feeling. Some couples you sat in front of and it felt like a train wreck about to happen. Others you felt that it had been thought about, even if it had only been thought about quickly. And I felt if an audience got a sense that I was trying to find people whose marriages wouldn't work, then that would kind of spoil the whole idea of the film, which is a serious look at why people get married.
RM: What attracts you to marriage as a subject?
MA: Just that, particularly in America, we're bombarded by the whole idea of family values and how important that is in our lives, and conflicting with that are the gigantic figures on divorce. It's so dramatic, the counterpoint between what we talk about and what we do in terms of marriage. That's enough for me.
RM: Will viewers find this series instructive?
MA: Since it does deal with the drama of ordinary life, I think that can only be helpful. It's a wonderful counterpoint to the Hollywood-fantasy version of life. People are fascinated by why people fall in love and get married, and in some ways it'll be revealing to the audience as much as it is to the people in the film, hopefully. So maybe it does add some minuscule bit to what we know about how we live.
RM: Will your presence affect the marriages you're studying?
MA: It's possible. The fact that people have agreed to become accountable to the general public every two years of their marriage may make them change their behavior -- I don't know. It doesn't seem to me not to make it worth doing.
RM: What about vice versa: do you find that your documentary work influences your own life - your marriage, say?
MA: I'm sure it does. It was kind of alarming. You think how many people have thought so much about it, how well prepared they are -- you know, I think of myself, and my first marriage, and I think, Christ, I didn't know anything.
RM: You have lived in the United States for 20 years now, and your second wife is American. Is there a difference between a British and an American marriage?
MA: The English don't really talk about issues very much, and one of the reasons I think my marriage collapsed, my first one, was our inability to confront issues. Americans are much more open about things. Now whether that's generational, whether a younger woman in England would be more open, would not accept a state of denial about issues, I don't know. But I definitely feel that Americans are much more in tune with the notion of therapy and of having help with marriage.
RM: How does that play out in this documentary?
MA: I've been sort of staggered by how open people are being, because I'm asking very intimate questions - about their sexual life and stuff like that - and no one has, you know, told me to take a jump. There's the downside, which is the Jerry Springer circus element, but maybe beside the hearth, beside the fire, it does make for a slightly healthier society.
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