Suffering, loss and a perpetual struggle to keep on going; such facets greatly inhabit Maris Curran’s deput film, Five Nights in Maine.
Lead actor, David Oyelowo (the voice of the King himself in historical-drama film Selma) takes charge in this new feature, and brings with his performance a distinctive take on anguish – as Five Nights in Maine explores the grieving throes of a widowed husband. The film addresses this matter among others. And as it progresses, the film adopts a guise of self-realization while continuing to harbor a darker and more solemn tenure. It’s befitting for a tragic tale.
Oyelowo, along with director Curran and fellow actor Rosie Perez, gave their input on the complexities beyond the picture – including the film’s initial planning and the painful, emotional process from beginning to end at a NY Film Critics National Series Premiere.
No fear from you, with women directors?
Oyelowo: No, no, no – of course not. I’ve been a huge beneficiary of the brilliant talents of female directors. In fact, I had a run of four female directors in a row. Which was just amazing for me. After I did Selma with Ava DuVernay, I did Five Nights in Maine with Maris, then I did Queen of Katwe with Mira Nair; and then I did A United Kingdom with Amma Asante. So, you know – to board brilliant film-makers – forget the female part; it’s just fantastically talented artists that have brought out of me things I didn’t know were in me.
David, Is Lucinda racist or did she just not want her daughter to get married, and especially to a man of color?
Oyelowo: I love these questions. Is she racist? I think that there is this gray line between abject racism and cultural bias. And I think we’re dealing with a lot of that in this country and in America, actually. This cultural bias, I think, is due to a fear of that you don’t know – and therefore don’t understand and so therefore incites fear. My character is a black man from Atlanta whose married Diane’s character’s daughter and they’re, you know, Diane and her daughter are estranged. And I’ve never met my mother-in-law. And the only thing we have in common is arguably the biggest thing in both our lives. So we are complete separate; complete unlike each-other but have this thing in common. So, when we are suddenly in this house in Maine, for five days, what you’re dealing with is two people navigating their differences. So, I wouldn’t say that she’s racist, I would say she’s a human being. You know, we fear and react in certain ways to things we don’t understand until we understand them. And I think with what happens through the course of the film is a degree of understanding that leads to – I hope – a cathartic level of healing that these people can begin from the bases of just getting to know each-other equally even though it’s very, very fractious, acrimonious, and painful.
If there were moments, that you had as Sherwin in this movie that resonates for you personally? That just connects with you?
Oyelowo: Yeah, I think there’s a moment in the film where my character says “she took so much with her” – and I remember doing that line in that take that was used in the movie and I think that’s the moment where I felt most the blur between the character and myself. You know, the thought – the hideous thought – of my wife no longer walking the planet – she would take a massive chunk of everything that I am. And so, it would be irreplaceable. And so, for me, that line goes to the heart of what makes it so tough; that you know that your life will never be the same again. And so, that to me – you’re always looking for the kernel of truth – I am, anyway, when I do a movie, and I think some time in that moment and in that line, is what I think Sherwin is going through.
From director Maris Curran and actor Rosie Perez:
This is your first feature. Where did it come from?
Curran: So, to begin, I’m a writer and director. I started with the writing – and I began to write it as my marriage was falling apart. So, it’s a piece of fiction. And I think that, both as a writer and as a director, it’s very important that you’re working with a specific and emotional issue such as this. And at that moment, I was facing a series of questions. Questions that Sherwin also faces in this film. Questions that begin with what to do when the floor falls from under you? What happens when your idea of your future family dissipates in an instant. What happens when your idea about yourself changes? And from there that’s – that was really the offering that my life gave to this film – and that I also gave to the actors. As a director, it’s saying because this is a moment; it’s a moment I know, it’s a moment that we could jump-off from.
You dealt with grief, trauma – all of those things in your life. It’s how you come out on the other side of it. Was that way this appealed to you in particular?
Perez: Well, in part yes. You know, when you’re referring to my book, you’re referring to my childhood and how I kept going. And, me moving forward was the worst thing and the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life. Because moving forward made me motivated and successful. But moving so quickly and so fast – I crushed. You know, life has a way of just telling you to sit down and with this film I related to it strongly because I had a serious injury – I broke my neck in 2009. And it made me just stop. And, you know, at a height of success, and you can’t move – it’s just a strange feeling of having to rely on others. It’s really tough and it reminded me of when my father was passing there was this home attendant he had – and she would come to our house in Puerto Rico and be there for 10 hours a day and became part of the family yet she was separate. She kept her distance. And with these film – I read the script – I told Maris that “oh my gosh, this is just a beautiful homage to care-takers”; to people that allow their patients to grieve. And I told her, I said “I’m gonna be the professional that has the strength to walk on egg shells.” And that’s how I approached it, because that’s how the caretakers took care of me, and took care of my family. Yeah, so – it was pretty intense. I had agreed with Maris on just what happens when the floor falls out from under you. It’s how you react and what I’ve learned in my life – this film actually gave me a lot of comfort because I didn’t know how to grieve. I thought it was supposed to be dramatic like a Puerto Rican does. You know, but my really good friends are here with me and they saw me grieve and it was just, actually, really, really quiet. And then they would have these intense moments that you just feel like you were part of – And I feel like this film validated my grieving process. That – “it was mine” – I didn’t have to grieve the way I did, but I grieved the way I was supposed to grieve.
The subtleties and quiet spaces of the film are very brave and powerful, how much of it was scripted versus spontaneous?
Perez: It was written and specific. Maris has a very, very clear vision. There wasn’t an ad-lib that I know of – if there was, it was minimal. And I think that it was very, very intentional. Even when he (David Oyelowo’s character) asks for a drink, and I’m running around because I don’t know this person and he’s entered this space and I feel awkward; and I’m trying to say the right things – but what most people do is stumble and fumble. Even his response – his quiet response to that and the quietness between us was intentional and I thought it played really, really well. And without her saying that to us, we understood that on the written page. So, in her direction, it wasn’t heavy-handed but yet it was specifically guided, if that makes sense.
Curran: This is about trusting and collaborating. And, even that moment where, you know, where Rosie was saying “this is the way I need to do it now” – and it’s like, well, there’s a reason why Rosie and I are working together. I mean, what she brings is the reason I want her there. She brings intellect, talent – she brings, you know, all of the things that had happened to her up until that moment. And I trust Rosie. And so yes, there is also that sense of “I trust you with these words and I trust you with this film – and yes, please bring more.”
We were wondering about what Sherwin did for a living and how he managed to leave of absence?
Curran: They were watching. Well, he’s an engineer. And, yeah.
Five Nights in Maine will be released to theatres on August 5th.