Tribeca Film Festival: ‘All About Nina’ Star Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Director Eva Vives Discuss Comedians and Bombing on Stage

Winstead

Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Eva Vives graced the red carpet for the premiere of their film ‘All About Nina’ where they discussed working with comedians, Richard Pryor, and doing impressions

Comedy is often the unsung hero of the cinematic world. It’s a complex coalescing of emotions that inevitably relies on difficult emotional language. It’s a world that few understand and even fewer dive into themselves. Most are intimidated and nearly all are terrified of going on stage and hearing nothing but crickets and coughs. After all, public speaking is one of the biggest fears that humanity has. And that fear doesn’t even involve making the audience laugh.

Thankfully, Raising Victor Vargas co-writer Eva Vives understands the intricacies of that world, professing her deep admiration and respect for the art of comedy. And it appears that Vives has so much adoration for it that she helmed the film herself, making it her first directorial debut in a feature film. And who better to help than the charming and fiercely talented Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who plays the eponymous Nina in their newest film All About Nina. The two took the time to talk to The Knockturnal about their time working on the film, their continued respect for comedians (and particularly open-mic performers) and more. Check out what they had to say below.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead Interview

You’re taking on this new role as a wayward comedian. Did you ever get involved and go to the comedy clubs and get on stage?

I did but I did not get on stage—even though I intended to! I talked a big talk for awhile there. I was like, “yeah we’re gonna get out there and do some open-mics and do that.” But the thought of that made me want to throw up. I really just couldn’t do that. And the closer we got to shooting, the more scared I was getting. So I decided to approach it more from an acting perspective as playing someone who’s a really good comic because I felt that I myself wouldn’t be. So instead I watched a lot of comedy and saw a lot of shows with Eva [Vives]. We took a lot from what we saw and then we worked with other comedians in terms of trying to craft and create a character that could feel like it could come from me but isn’t me.

It sounds like you coming up to that point of production when shooting was about to begin, you were waiting for that call to get up on stage and begin your career as a comedian.

I mean the way we shot it felt very real. The extras were told to laugh and not to laugh if they didn’t think it was funny. It was shot very quickly too. We only did a few takes of each one and it would be one take or have a couple cameras going at the same time. So it wasn’t like, “we’re going to shoot it one joke at a time, have the audience laugh, cut and go again.” It really felt like doing stand-up.

So comedy fidelity was important for you guys.

Yes, absolutely, so that it would feel real. It was great for me because the first take we did, the extras were told not to laugh and I didn’t know that. They thought that they weren’t supposed to laugh because of sound.

So you got a taste of bombing on stage [laugh].

Yes exactly! So I naturally did a lot of the things that comedians do. “Okay, you guys didn’t like that joke, alright, let’s see what else we have for you.” You just feel this sinking sensation in your stomach. So I did feel that.

Was there any newfound respect or hatred you gained going through that experience?

I mean yes and no because I’ve always had huge respect for comedians. I’ve always seen it as something that seems like the most nerve-wracking, difficult thing to do. To get up on stage and ask for their laughter is to me just an incredibly vulnerable thing to do. It’s just really brave. I’ve always felt like that and I think that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to take the part. I thought it would be a great thing to at least pretend to be that kind of person to have the balls to go up and do that.

Do you feel like it gave you a good foundation to potentially pursue future comedy films?

Yeah, I think that every time I do a little bit of comedy, I feel more comfortable in being able to say I do comedy. When I started, I never thought of myself a comedic actor or being able to do any sort of comedy. But I keep doing it little by little and this time playing a comedian, it’s built my confidence in that regard. Hopefully! I haven’t seen the movie yet [laughs].

Eva Vives Interview

Just to kick it off, I want to let you know I’m a huge fan of Raising Victor Vargas. That film had so much social realism attached to it and I understand that this one does too. I was wondering what made you want to pursue the nuanced perspective of a comedian’s dark inner world?

Eva Vives: It’s a world that I’ve always been really interested in. I dated a comedian a million years ago and he got me into the New York comedy scene.

It’s not Jay Mohr is it? [laughs]

Eva Vives: [laughs] No, but maybe we should start that rumor.

He’s great at impressions too.

Vives: I know, they asked us to do a Robert De Niro impression today and I was like, ‘are you fucking kidding me?’ but Jay would always do it. He’d do a good one too. He does everyone. He’ll probably do like 10 minutes of stand-up tonight. But I’ve always loved that world. As a writer and a director, it’s kind of an amazing world. I started going every night, first just to support them and then I started seeing how they change the writing, how they change the delivery of the jokes, and how the audience changes everything. So in a way, it’s very similar to a film set in that you have all these different things coming together and obviously there’s no director but I was always fascinated by it. And I think it’s a way of telling truths that you can get away with. You can get away with saying a lot more if you’re make people laugh. That always fascinated me because the movie is about a lot of personal pain and trauma that a lot of people go through. I know for me, it helped me a lot. I might be feeling shitty but I could listen to a Richard Pryor and feel like, ‘well he’s gone through some shit and look at how he’s processing it.’

I think that’s always one of the great upsides of comedians is that they somehow turn these awful nuggets of memory and pain into these golden moments of joy. I know that’s why I’ve always gravitated towards stand-up comedy, just like you did in this narrative form. But I’m curious, how did you manage to strike that balance between drama and comedy so that it’s still funny and yet still comically tragic?

Vives: It wasn’t the easiest thing, for sure. But I was always taken by how that happens in life. I think you can be having a great night doing your set one night or directing a movie but then you get home and get into a fight with somebody. I think in the case of Nina, it can be even more dramatic. I also think about that every time I’m walking around. Maybe the cashier at the supermarket got beaten up last night or your doctor or whoever. Knowing that that happens day-to-day is important. The opposite could happen too where you could get some terrible piece of news but someone next to you is laughing at some joke they just heard. I just try to make it realistic in that way, which I think people will recognize in some way, even though it’s a little shocking in a movie. And with the drama, you do have to give it a little time. You can’t follow it up with a joke.

All About Nina premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 22.

 

CommonMary Elizabeth WinsteadJay Mohr and Eva Vives celebrated the 2018 Tribeca Film premiere of All About Nina, on Saturday, April 21st, hosted by Don Julio. Guests enjoyed signature Tequila Don Julio Palomas as well as Tequila Don Julio 1942 on Catch Roof.

PHOTO CREDIT: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

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