Andie MacDowell, director Russell Harbaugh and co-writer Eric Mendelsohn discuss the eclectic cast, Sylvia Plath and Columbia Film School
It seems that filmic mentorships are rare to come by these days. While vestiges of the “send the elevator back down” theory remain in the industry, they seldom are as pronounced as they were decades past. Director Roger Corman is frequently cited as one of the most prominent mentors in the film industry, having launched the careers of luminaries like Peter Bogdanovich, James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard and Martin Scorsese (to name a few). It’s a process that ensures that the young, voiceless and timid new generation have the opportunity to break into a steadfastly stubborn industry.
And it appears that that same mentorship between generations is poised to continue with the partnership between filmmaker-turned-professor Eric Mendelsohn and his former student Russell Harbaugh. The former is the only filmmaker in Sundance history to have won two Best Director awards, having himself been mentored by the illustrious Woody Allen during the early ’90s. Eager to pass on the torch, Mendelsohn co-wrote and executive produced Harbaugh’s debut feature having encouraged the nascent filmmaker to workshop it at the Sundance Institute. Now after nearly five years, the duo and their charming eclectic cast of “Love After Love” find themselves at the Tribeca Film Festival. As they graced the red carpet, The Knockturnal had the opportunity to talk to the film’s cast and crew about their time working on the film, the inspirations for it and the characters they play.
On Coming on Board
Independent cinema is perhaps sometimes seen in the same light as theatrical work–a career remedy. When one sees big stars in a small indie film, many would assume that they are attempting to find their artistic footing or maybe attempting to rediscover their passion for acting. And while that may be true for many other actors, it seems that was never the case for these artists.
“The Knick” star Juliet Rylance explained that, “I just loved the script. It’s so well written, there’s no exposition–it’s so clean as a piece of work in itself. I had a Skype call with Russell [Harbaugh] and I just loved the way he talked about filmmaking and how he envisioned the project. It was exactly how he hoped it would be.”
When asked about her experiences working with the nascent Harbaugh she replied, “It was amazing. I don’t think anyone felt that this was his first film. I think that because this is such a personal story to him, I feel like he’s lived this story in a sense. That really showed in the way that he worked with us. It was an amazing set. I mean everyone says that–that it’s an amazing crew and set but it really was.” It was at that point that Dree Hemingway chimed in to support Rylance’s claims, saying, “it really was. I think we were all drawn to the story that Harbaugh set out to tell.”
The Dramatic Comedian
While many may point out that . From Richard Pryor’s masterful turn in “Blue Collar” (1978) all the way to Bob Odenkirk’s reserved nuances in the “Breaking Bad” spin-off “Better Call Saul,” comedians have a penchant for delving into drama. Their bizarre outlook on life not only produces quirky anecdotes and side-splitting jokes–it also manifests a strange yet palpably realistic portrayal of lose, heartache, confidence, betrayal, and every other shade under the dramatic rainbow. And few people realize this more than “Groundhog Day” star Andie MacDowell.
“I do really well with comedians. I think comedians are usually very sad people. They enjoy making people laugh but just think of Bill Murray,” MacDowell ruminated. The lauded actress went on to gushingly say, “I love working with comedians. Chris [O’Dowd], James [Adomian] and I really went to some deep, wonderful, beautiful places. I was really lucky to get to work with them–it was a great process.”
The Director and the Actor: A Symbiotic Relationship
A director’s is often seen as the author of a film for they are the ones that are instilling their vision. They are the overseers of the project, dictating any and every aspect of the film. Whether it’s lighting, costuming or script changes, the director typically has the final word. And that job is made infinitely easier when you have a fantastic cast to work with that just understands you–a quality that Harbaugh found with ease in his debut feature.
Speaking of MacDowell’s actorial presence, Harbaugh gushed, “she has such a silky, natural presence. She has an delicate ease to her acting that you don’t want to touch.” Going further to explain MacDowell’s acting technique, the director explained, “Andie was not someone who wanted to get under everything. She just wanted to get in front of the camera and be. She has a great emotional bullshit detector. A lot of my job ended up just pivoting her in one direction or another.” That same sort of experiential quality seemed to be manifesting itself differently in Irish comedian Chris O’Dowd.
“Chris was the opposite,” explained Harbaugh. “He wanted to talk a lot. He’s a very intellectual kind of guy. He’s really considerate about how he’s coming into the scene and his performance is very powerful for that reason.”
Pain and Time: The Secret to Any Filmmaker’s Craft
Many filmmakers tend to refer to their films as their babies: they are conceived, they grow and finally they are born. But while that process may only be a few years or even months for some, many in the independent film circuit realize that it is much more than few years. “The project went through the Sundance Institute program in January 2013…and now it’s April 2017.” Mendelsohn, amazed at the length of time, gasped, “wow, yeah you’re right.” “We had worked for a year prior on the script,” added Harbaugh.
When noting the rarity of mentorship collaborations that Mendelsohn and Harbaugh embody, the director-turned-professor quickly and encouragingly said, “I agree!” Harbaugh went to say, “it stopped being a mentorship and it became collaborative soon after we began. I think if you find someone you can work with, you stick with them. It’s really hard to work with people.” The director added that, “it’s even harder to work with people on something unusual that wants to be new. When you find someone you can work with easily, the world stops and you say to yourself, “well that’s what we’re going to do together.”
Reflecting on how the two realized their intellectual similarities, Mendelsohn recalled, “I read a poem in class by Sylvia Plath and I thought there was this unbelievable line that was devastating, but I didn’t reveal the line.” The former Sundance-winner continued, “Russ raised his hand and said, ‘that repetition… that laid me out.’ I was taken aback and had to ask, ‘what was your name again?’ [laughs]. I swear to god that was the moment that I said to myself, ‘Who is that kid? That is exactly what I meant!'”
The co-writer went on to eloquently state, “in your own life, you don’t meet so many people that you can see eye-to-eye with about the important things, so when you do it’s just amazing.” When asked whether the two see themselves collaborating more in the future, both seemed hopeful. “There’s always a possibility. My feeling is that Russ is now set-up. I feel he should see what Russ does and just go through his next weirdo phase.”
It was at that moment that I chimed in to add, “like when Mr. Harbaugh starts making industrial films all of a sudden! [laughs]” to which Mendelsohn laughed out loud and replied, “wait, where are you from? I just got that same thought [laughs].”
Andie MacDowell, Chris O’Dowd, Dree Hemingway, James Adomian, Juliet Rylance and Russell Harbaugh (Director) celebrated the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival premiere of Love After Love at Up and Down on Saturday, April 22, 2017.
Francois Arnaud, Brian Crano, Raul Castillo, Gina Gershon, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Spector, Dan Stevens, and Jason Sudeikis celebrated the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival premiere of Permission on Saturday, April 22, 2017, sponsored by Heineken at Up & Down as well.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ilya Savenok/Getty Images
Love After Love had its world premiere April 22 at the Tribeca Film Festival. Check out Tribeca’s website where you can still catch the film during the festival.