(clockwise from the top: Noël Wells, Britt Lower, Nick Thune, Andre Hyland)
As you could guess by now, I kind of fell in love with Mr. Roosevelt here at SXSW. The directorial debut by Noël Wells is probably my favorite film I’ve seen at the fest this year, and when you see the movie it shows. Wells juggles writer-directing duties as well as starring in the movie. It’s not only really, really funny (I nearly rolled out of chair due to laughing so hard at times), but also really endearing and even emotional at times. It’s one of the best debuts I’ve seen from a director, ever, and the future is looking really good for Noël Wells.
I was lucky enough to participate in a roundtable discussion with Wells along with the cast of the film. All four of them were unbelievably cool to talk with, and they were all really interesting and fun to talk with. To make sure this post doesn’t end up going too long, I’ll just stick to the questions that I asked them instead of transcribing the entire roundtable conversation. If there’s any context I need to add in the interview due to another journalist’s question or something like that, I’ll let you know. Enjoy.
How did this movie come together, and what was your inspiration for Mr. Roosevelt?
Noël: I’ve the idea for this character in my head since college, and I’ve written scenes for her over the years. And then I wrote a version of the script a couple of years ago-
(at this point a journalist’s phone goes off)
Noël: Oh my God you’re off the table! (Laughs). So, I wrote a version of the script a couple of years ago that I sent out, and everybody was like, “Oh, this is funny, but it’s kind of all over the place.”, and I kind of had to agree. And then when I finally got the idea on what would center all of her experiences, it was Mr. Roosevelt. And then once that was in place, everything kind of just happened from there. You got the answer, and then everything sort of evolves out of that central plane. The most important thing for me was the story and having a really solid story that felt like a complete movie, and everything else in it you just kind of pull through your life if you get anecdotes, you see characters in the world that you want to put in the film, you just kind of build it out from there.
(For Nick and Britt): How did you hear about this film?
Britt: Noël and I have the same manager, so I was working on a project and I just got a call from Kirsten, and I know Noël from SNL. I was living in New York and Kirsten set us up on a lady date and we had wine in Bright Park (laughs), sat on a swinging bench, and I just fell in love with her, I think she’s an incredible artist so when I got her script I was super stoked.
Nick: I think the way it went was she probably offered the role to 15 men, and then a couple of weeks before the movie she was fucking freaking out, and that’s when my phone rang (laughs), and then the offer came in. I read the script and just thought it was definitely something special, and I haven’t seen it until yesterday, and I think it’s something more special that I could’ve ever imagined, really. And I think to show how special the movie is the fact that the problems that happened [the film projector broke during the screening and it took a little while before SXSW could fix the problem and continue the screening] people still really liked it, it didn’t kill the momentum. I was really proud.
Fun little moment in-between: During the roundtable with Noël and Andre, she describes the film’s story and the journey that her character goes through both in life and in the film, she then seg-ways by jokingly telling us:
“This is where I start giving my sick theory about how we’re all sort of part reptiles”, with laughter erupting from around the table.
I jokingly respond by saying that’s “Alex Jones territory”.
“Yeah. I’m gonna do an interview with him later. I can’t wait ’til he knows. But we’re all birds. [Imagining a InfoWars headline] ‘Noël Wells: We’re all birds.'” (Laughs). I thought this was a funny exchange. Anyways, back to the interview.
You guys mentioned film. And obviously, we don’t see a whole lot of movies shot on film. As an actor, what was it like for you if you messed up a take shooting on film compared to digital?
Nick: We’ll, they’re generally always is for me. When you see the amount of people working to get the lighting right, and then if you don’t walk in and do your job, it just sucks because everyone’s waiting on that top happen. So, this made it definitely more urgent.
Britt: Yeah, I think there’s definitely more pressure when you’re shooting on film, but it’s kind of this good pressure because sometimes I think about all the photos that we have in our iPhones. There’s just so many that you’ve gone through and edited-
Nick: Until the memory is full (Laughs).
Britt: But if you have an actual camera with only 35 photos, [to Nick] I’m just translating to still photos.
Nick: Yeah, yeah.
Britt: You’re much more careful and calculated about the shot that you’re setting up and I think you get a much more beautiful, tactful experience and I think it definitely shows in the film how the film changes the film.
Nick: Also, the thought of just how important rehearsal is. A rehersal on film is very important because the next shot is everything. So, a rehearsal when you’re doing digital is like, I come from a stand-up background where reaction is what I need, and when I’m making a movie I need to hear the camerasist laugh when I do something. I need to hear people enjoy what I’m doing and the only way to do that is to surprise them with something, so I’ll generally give 60 percent in the rehearsal, knowing that I’m holding something back that I want to hopefully blow someone’s mind you know, like at least get some sort of response. And Noël made it very clear, very quickly that that’s not okay (Laughs). She’s like, ‘you need to give 100 percent’. She was having me come over to her Airbnb almost every other night just to rehearse something like that big fight scene we have in the street. And at first, I’m like, ‘I’m off the clock, like why?’, and then I realize, ‘Yeah, we need to get this because we have no money, we’re shooting on this expensive film.’ (Laughs). It was a whole different ballgame and then the second that I figured that out, yeah, it was great. It made it more fun.
Other journalist: It seems like everything has to be really deliberate, right? You can’t just come in and half-ass a take?
Nick: Yeah. Just look at the screening yesterday (Laughs). If it was digital, it would’ve never happened.
Britt: Well, I think the approach is being 100 percent prepared, but also being willing to let mistakes happen because Noël was talking yesterday in the talkback yesterday, and I fully agree and see how it was executed. You have to kind of allow for mistakes and sloppiness and sort of other spontaneous moments to happen, but that requires a level of preparedness to recognize when those spontaneous happenings are gold.
Nick: You know its funny, because it makes me feel good that the movie’s on film because it feels more permanent, than digital. The mistakes that I made, the fact that those are somewhere permanently (Laughs). It’s not just a digital file that you delete, its actually a print of me fucking a whole bunch (Laughs).
Britt: All on the cutting room floor (Laughs).
Noel, you kind of alluded to this in your question about-
Andre: The lizard people?
(Laughs) No!, well maybe that too, with Austin/Alex Jones and all that. I noticed this of the sequence with the brunch. I was born and raised here, so I’ve seen the city grow and turn into this giant metropolis. Did the changing landscape in Austin, did that contribute to the film and the story for you?
Noël: When I set out, I was really trying to have that parallel. And, what I kind of recognized, and what comes with the maturity and sort of wanting things to better for myself as well, is that there’s that sort of rock ‘n roll sort of lifestyle or punk and its sort of fun to be a person that doesn’t know what’s going on in your life and kind of being a hot mess. And I think when people start getting their lives together, you’re like, ‘Oh, you’re changing!’ and ‘you lost your edge!’, and you know I think that people think that this city is changing in a lot of ways and it is changing in a negative way when people are pushing people out and when culture is being destroyed. That’s something that we should all be really sensitive to and I think its really good to push back on. And then there’s this other part where people should be allowed to have good lives and make beautiful lives and have friends and enjoy things. There’s this balance, and with the brunch scene it seems like this microcosm of everything that’s going wrong and these people are so absurd, and like the internet’s dumb and everybody’s just trying to do it for taking pictures of everything. But also, people are just people, and they’re just trying to feel good too, and I think if we can kind of find this balance and recognize what’s good change and what’s bad change, and maybe not hating everybody for being different. Am I answering your question?
Yeah! I totally get it, you get that vibe just all over the city.
Noël: Yeah! People should be allowed to move to a beautiful city and have a better life, but are they pushing people out? Or can they bring people with them, and how can we do this without absolutely destroying things that matter to people? (Laughs). And some people don’t even think about it, they just think about themselves. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Eric (Nick’s character in the film) deciding he wants this life and he wants this stability and he wants to have the pretty white house, like why not?
Andre: Yeah, like with his character or anyone who does that in life, if that’s what they want to do. Let’s just take the example of a musician, like if they’re just like ‘I’m kind of over it’, they’re only trying to prove it to others to sort keep the edge or so to speak or whatever. And if they’re just like, ‘I just want to buy a house and watch DVDs’ (Laughs). That might just seem really boring to me, but that might just there you have it. There’s not really a wrong answer for them if that’s what they want.
Noël: Yeah, and I think there’s a bigger thing also in this movie that I was trying to get out which is like the American version of life, you go to school, you go to college, and when you graduate from college and you do really well in your career and then you get to the top and you get to celebrate your life or whatever. That’s just not really how it works. And people that get very, very successful very rarely feel good from that success and what they’re really looking for is to be connected to the world and feel like they belong and that looks differently for everybody. And I think that Emily’s (Noël’s character in the film) struggling with her ambition because she thought that was going to be her connecting with people and its not happening. So, she ends up learning to connect with people through this tragedy.
Those were the highlights from our roundtable talks. The cast was a delight to talk to, and their movie is really fantastic. If you’re still at SXSW, it’s playing a few more times (It’s playing on Wednesday at 2 at the Paramount if you can make it. Thanks again to the publicists who let me participate in this, and thanks to Noël, Britt, Nick, and Andre for participating. Congrats again on the movie.