InDepth InterView: Neil LaBute Talks SOME VELVET MORNING, DirecTV Series, Upcoming Projects & More
Today we are talking to a notable playwright, screenwriter and director all about his newest venture - the searing and absorbing two-character film SOME VELVET MORNING, starring Stanley Tucci and Alice Eve - as well as taking a look at his many current and upcoming projects - the estimable Neil LaBute. Discussing the details behind the conception, creation and release of SOME VELVET MORNING, LaBute offers a glimpse into the brilliant design and intriguing premise of the unusual new romantic drama as well as offers his own insights into the film's controversial and unforgettable final moments. Additionally, LaBute opens up about his new DIRECTV series FULL CIRCLE and expresses a desire to continue with the series should be it renewed for a second season in 2014, in addition to continue his relationship with the company itself byway of the just-announced 10x10 film series. Also, LaBute offers comments on the new feature film adaptation of his oft-produced play SOME GIRL(S) starring Adam Brody and Kristen Bell and shares first news on two upcoming films he is in the process of writing/directing - including DIRTY WEEKEND, also starring Alice Eve along with Matthew Broderick, in addition to, perhaps, SECONDS OF PLEASURE, as well. All of that and much, much more in this relatively brief but illuminating chat with one of the most intriguing and important playwrights of our age.
SOME VELVET MORNING is available now on demand, with select screenings scheduled this week. More information on SOME VELVET MORNING is available at the official site here.
NOTE: Spoilers! Elements of the plot relating to the outcome are discussed herein.
PC: Did you ever consider putting SOME VELVET MORNING onstage? It has a very theatrical flair, needless to say. What was your impetus for creating it?
NL: I initially certainly did think about it - when I finished writing it, it's one of the things that certainly could have gone straight to the theatre. I think that, in fact, it will be published as a play - the longer text. We truncated it quite a bit to make it into the film that you see now. But, rather than going through that process of being a play and then becoming a film - and that has a particular onus about it where people go, "Oh, it's just a filmed play," or they think this or that; I thought, "Whether or not it feels like that, if I just make a film out of it first then that they have to just sort of deal with it on those terms, as what it is."
PC: Take it on face value.
NL: Right. So, some people have said, "Oh, yeah, it's like a filmed play," and some people have said, "Oh, it's like a chamber piece - very controlled and all of that." So, I feel like it was a smart thing to do it like this - I was looking for something to do that kind of took me back to the sort of films that I started out doing, so it made sense to me to go straight to the cinema versus go straight to the stage.
PC: The way you utilize depth and many different levels going on within scenes is masterful. Did you work closely with the cinematographer on establishing many different looks for the singular set?
NL: Absolutely. Absolutely. This is the third or fourth film that I have done with Rogier Stoffers - he is from Holland and just has a beautiful eye; he really controls colors beautifully and he is great with light. And, he thinks in pictures the way that I think in words, so to have somebody like that who is going to take what you've got and expand that within the medium you are using - you've just gotta have that. And, so, I think that we were all blessed to find a place like the one that we used - rather than being a simple, one-floor apartment, it had its levels and a very controlled outdoor space that just gave us enough variety to get by, I think, in the way that we do. So, you can say that, while it is still a very controlled piece and it is all in real-time with these two people, you still get a sense of movement of going place to place - some very simple but elegant choices in terms of camera moves or an approach to different scenes, and, yet, to still allow the actors to act; to, you know, be in a scene together and not break it up. I think that those things are really important - that's the meat and potatoes of a thing like this; it kind of lives or dies by these two characters, so, while you are highlighting that, it's also great to remind yourself that you are in this visual medium, and, so, you know, let's use it in some way.
PC: Was there a particular inspiration you took from another source or a style you wished to evoke? Where did the idea spring from, exactly, as far as you remember?
NL: It was probably after the writing of it that I took in more inspirations - of course, writing it, I wasn't necessarily thinking film. When we decided this was something that we could do as a film, I started thinking about other films that I had seen that were very controlled in this way - things like the trilogy of films Richard Linklater did, starting with BEFORE SUNRISE. Even though they have some space to them, they're kind of traveling through different cities, but they're incredibly controlled conversations and mostly just with two people. And, then, it's sort of the antithesis of that with this film that Ethan Hawke did back in the day when he filmed this Stephen Belber play, TAPE. It all takes place in one motel room. That's a film I looked at again when I was making this. And, Tom Noonan's film that won Sundance years ago, too - WHAT HAPPENED WAS... . There's a whole section in Bergman's SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE that is an inspiration to me all the time, too...
PC: Which one in particular?
NL: There's this section called "The Illiterates" where they are in his office at school and that is the only setting for that hour of the piece. Things like that are a big inspiration to me.
PC: Was the twist ending always in place exactly as we see it in the film?
NL: Yes. That existed from the beginning. You know, a lot of times I have that in my head - that sense of where I am going but not knowing how I am going to get there; and I enjoy the journey myself as a writer and hopefully that translates to people enjoying it as a viewer. I really wanted to see how long I could sustain that story - a story of this man who is coming back to this woman after a few years - and take people on that emotional journey and then turn that radically, both physically and emotionally, at the end of the piece and still make it all believable.
PC: No easy feat.
NL: Yeah, so, you know, there was a slightly experimental side in my head going, "How long can I keep this ball in the air?" But, outside of that, the journey is pretty much the same - you have to make these people who don't exist seem believable and worth watching.
PC: Alice Eve's phone call scene is so spectacular. Did you ever consider using visualizations or bringing an actual third actor into the film - TAPE utilizes a third actor, after all, in the second half.
NL: You're right - it does. For me, it was always about having these off-screen presences that you never see - certainly, there's his wife, who you're left with very little about, and then there's this son. But, no, ultimately, I didn't actually imagine visualizing them in the film in any way - not only because of how things end up, which, had in fact I visualized them probably would have thrown an audience off even further off, going, "Wait a minute! I saw pictures of them!"... and that would have either been confusing or interestingly confusing, but I never really thought about it in that way - I sort of like the idea of the off-stage character; it's used a lot in theatre and it can be very effective. You know, Alice, Stanley and I talked about the mechanics between them working because of the general sense of "This is the way we play this game." I mean, if this was the only time that they had done it, they would be like the greatest improv artists in the world! [Laughs.]
PC: You can say that again!
NL: Second City graduates! But, yeah, for us, it was always: this is a template for how they went about their sessions together; that there was always this thing that he wanted to take from her, both emotionally and physically, and she withheld it for as long as possible and often there was this third party that manifests itself as the son or an office colleague or whoever depending on what game they are playing. We always sort of imagined that the names Fred and Velvet were sort of code-words to them to say, "Oh, we're playing that scenario today."
PC: What is the painting seen in the film and on the promo poster? It's so provocative and viscerally fantastic.
NL: Oh, yeah! We used that as a festival poster, you're right - ultimately, the poster that we have out now is a little different; it's just the two of them and it's sort of a still from the film. That painting was brought to me by a production designer I have worked with a lot in the theatre who worked with me for the first time on a film with this, actually - he found a number of paintings to bring into the home and that was one of them. To be honest, we just sort of loved the picture and so we staged one of the scenes underneath it. And, then, when we were looking for art for a poster, we settled on that painting, too. It's just sort of a beautiful, abstract, male/female sort of struggle depicted in it that we found really interesting.
PC: The last three minutes of SOME VELVET MORNING are unforgettable - truly commendable storytelling. I can't wait to see what people say about it.
NL: Thank you for saying that, Pat. Me, too.
PC: So, you are continuing your collaboration with Alice on your next film, as well, are you not? DIRTY WEEKEND?
NL: Yes - that's right. And, I can tell you that it is a very different character for her!
PC: What can you tell me about it?
NL: Well, it's certainly the same kind of approach to a movie - a relatively very small film, but very controllable. Matthew Broderick co-stars with Alice in this one.
PC: What a fabulous pairing!
NL: Yeah, I really like working with Alice a lot - I've worked with her onstage and it was a blast to have her work on these two things, first with Stanley and now on the new one with Matthew.
PC: SECONDS OF PLEASURE is another film of yours ready to shoot next year, as well, correct?
NL: Yes - there are a couple of things that are floating out there that we have been talking about and that's one of them. As they do in the movie world, though, they just seem to float... [Big Laugh.]
PC: Let's hope this one starts sinking then!
NL: That picture is based on some of my short stories, actually - it's been floating out there for a little while now. Who knows what will be next, though - you know, I've come to a place in a relatively short period of time, fifteen years or so, where I've realized how incredibly hard it is to get movies made and how happenstance it is. So, I sort of go about my life now without worrying too much about it and working on a lot of different things and when films go, then we'll see - often you just drop everything and go do them, in my experience.
PC: FULL CIRCLE is such a unique and addictive series - was that your goal in writing a TV show?
NL: Well, yeah - I think that's the general goal! [Big Laugh.]
PC: It's a fascinating experience, all told - at least Season One.
NL: Thanks for saying that - yeah, I wrote the scripts but I didn't really have anything to do with the production of them, so, while I am happy that it all has been done and everything, it is one of those things that has made me want to be more connected to the production because it is a writer's medium, but it's also a show runner's medium, I think. It was a fun thing to do and a great structure to work with, but, if there is another season of it or if I do other things for television, I certainly would want to be more hands-on in the future.
PC: I have to ask: is it merely a coincidence that FULL CIRCLE starts with a son and his father's girlfriend having an affair, particularly given the plot of SOME VELVET MORNING?
NL: [Laughs.] Yes, yes - just a coincidence!
PC: A film adaptation of SOME GIRL(S) just was recently released, as well - what an incredibly busy year this has been for you, Neil! Tell me about that project and your involvement with it.
NL: SOME GIRL(S) came about as a movie because some people approached me who had seen the play thought that it could be an interesting movie, and, to be honest, I hadn't thought too much about that, actually. But, when they said that, I thought, "Yeah - I could certainly see SOME GIRL(S) working as a film." And, so, we got them the rights and it was kind of the same thing as with SOME VELVET MORNING - I trimmed the original text; the original play. The original play had four women and the male character, and, ultimately, I wrote another character, so they wanted to include all of them [in the film]. So, the screen version included a lot of trimming just to make sure all five could fit in there and also some ancillary material to move it from place to place, which you didn't have to do onstage - the point of it, in fact, was these generic hotel rooms that all sort of looked the same. But, I thought they did an awfully good job with it - I really liked Adam Brody and they cast terrific women in all the roles.
PC: A tremendous ensemble.
NL: Yeah, it is - and, it was fun to have somebody else direct something that I had written. I enjoyed that.
PC: This was so illuminating, Neil - I cannot thank you enough for this today. We can't wait for all that is next!
NL: This was a pleasure, Pat. Thanks a lot. Bye bye.