What happens when a loveless marriage suddenly finds its spark again?
It’s a tale almost as old as time itself–people marry, they stay married and eventually they fall out of love. But never out of that marriage. It seems that there comes a moment in middle-age where one accepts their fate of lifeless companionship due to comfort and routine. At a certain point, people call it quits. But what happens when that divorce threatens the routine you’ve grown so engrossingly accustomed to? That appears to be the question that director Azazel Jacobs is asking in his newest film “The Lovers.”
Telling the tale of a married couple, Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) have slowly been growing farther apart from one another over the years. Stuck in a dispassionate relationship, both are in the throes of a committed tryst with other people. Neither seems to really mind and both amicably agree to divorce to pursue their new relationships. But just when it seems that the light has died in this marriage, there comes an eruption of fire that sparks a newfound romance that has long been missing in their relationship.
The Knockturnal had the opportunity to speak to director Azazel Jacobs and stars Tracy Letts and Debra Winger about their time working on the film, the differences film and theater and Letts’ first starring role.
From Broadway to Film: The Careening Career of Tracy Letts
When faced with a downward spiral into mediocrity, many actors jump on the broadway bandwagon in hopes that it will revitalize their career. And thanks to Broadway’s recent revival, it’s no surprise that many actors have begun gracing the stage to hone their craft and become a bonafide actor. But while many Hollywood actors tend to go to theatrical runs later in their careers, Tracy Letts has done the opposite.
The enigmatically brilliant Letts is perhaps most famously known for his work on Broadway. From Killer Joe (1993) to August: Osage County (2007), Letts has had an illustrious career as both a playwright and an actor. From Pulitzers to Tonys, Letts is a heralded individual in the stage world. And with recent stints on television with Homeland and critically acclaimed films like The Big Short and Christine, it seems that Letts is finally delving into the world of the the big and small screen. Now in his first starring role, Letts is beginning his much deserved transition into leading man.
Director Azazel Jacobs described working with Letts as “a total surprise to be honest.” The director went on to say, “Just to see on day one that this person had a whole other side that he can be that I had a hope for. But he really is the most tender performer that I’ve ever met and it really comes through.” Letts himself said his first starring experience was, “very exciting.” The Pulitzer Prize winner added, “as an actor on stage, I’ve played leading roles as well as character roles but I’d never been asked to do anything like this before for film. I jumped at the chance because the script was good and I would get a chance to work with Debra [Winger].
Speaking of his time working on the film, Letts said, “it was an amazing opportunity. The responsibilities when you’re a lead in a film are a little different. There are some different boxes you need to check but it was great. And you’re too tired and you have to move on to the next thing too quickly to get too worked up about any of it. You just keep on going.”
A Young Director, A Middle-Aged Story
Being a storyteller can be a difficult job sometimes. Especially when you’re making a film about a marriage crisis that you have seldom run into in your life. But Azazel Jacobs did not see it that way. Instead, the forty-five year old director approached it in the same vein that he would with any other story–with a penchant for honesty, humor and humanism.
“It was one of those moments where it almost popped into my head like a riddle,” said the director. “I find love strange and interesting. It’s interesting that people can lose their mind in love. This idea came to me about what happens after that moment when romance becomes more work than the thing you’re running from–that’s how it all started for me and it opened itself up from there.”
When asked what inspired him to pursue this idea, Jacobs revealed, “I remember being five and missing being four. It doesn’t feel that far away for me. I’m not sure where these things come from other than the fact that you have an idea and you really hope for the best. And then suddenly, here we are a year later.”
Debra Winger had nothing but praise for the director, saying “he had so much respect for everybody’s perspective. He wasn’t cramming his ideas of it. He was trying to come together with ours. I think that’s the beauty of working in a collaborative project.” Winger went on to philosophically muse about the notions of middle age, pondering, “I don’t know what people call middle-age anymore because if they’re planning to live to a hundred, why do they call fifty middle-age? It’s so well beyond middle-age. I always thought, “Shit! I missed my middle-age and nobody told me I was middle-age!”
Marriage: It Isn’t for Everyone
An eternal bond that is monogamous can be daunting. It’s a lifetime together of ups-and-downs, left-and-rights and so much more. It’s a leap that can seem overwhelming, with a strong essence of finality attached to it. But “The Lovers” suggests that while it may have its downsides, there is a reason that it happened in the first place. Whatever it was that draws people together only lays dormant while going through the motions. As Jacobs’ newest film suggests, that dormancy can only stay hidden for so long before it comes back out again.
When asked how how she prepared for the role, Debra Winger facetiously replied, “I think that twenty-five years of marriage helps. I never thought I would say that and I don’t know that I’ll say it tomorrow but that’s how it’s worked so far.” Winger continued that the film’s portrayal of marriage is an eclectic one due to the multitude of perspectives provided. “You’re getting a recipe that has the ingredients of a middle-aged man who’s freshly married, an old married woman of twenty-five years and a young married person–Azazel [Jacobs]. I think the three of us brought three differing viewpoints that melt into a movie that’s clearly not going to be one thing. It’s kind of the mystery of love.”
“The Lovers” had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 22. Worldwide distribution is being handled by Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions. A24 is scheduling the film’s US release for May 5.