Neil Labute with actors Gia Crovatin & Phil Burke on Small Stories and Skittles Analogies
With films like In The Company of Men and The Shape of Things already in his filmography, Neil LaBute has developed a reputation for creating provocative, occasionally inflammatory material. Which is why, at least in part, LaBute ventured to develop a “sweeter” project in Dirty Weekend. The film stars Matthew Broderick and Alice Eve as work colleagues whose business trip gets diverted to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they ponder indulging in a “dirty weekend” away from their significant others. Despite any intended sweetness, the movie still proved too challenging for at least one pair of movie-goers. “I had one couple close to me [leave] together,” LaBute acknowledges. “It didn’t seem to come at a point, like, ‘Oh, that’s offensive’… Two thirds of the way in they realized this wasn’t Furious 7.”
Speaking with Way Too Indie at the Tribeca Film Festival, LaBute, as well Dirty Weekend actors Gia Crovatin & Phil Burke, discuss the new movie’s enigmatic characters, the idiom that inspired the movie, and Phil’s favorite ballooning spots.
What was the initial inspiration for the film?
Neil: Probably the title. When you hear that term… I work over in England every so often, and when I first heard it I thought, “Oh that’s a good one! That’s a good title. But what’s a story that goes with it?” So I started writing a script that was going to take place in England. Made sense, right? We get the chance to finally make it, [we] had to make it in the States. We’ve got to find a place, all the things that go into independent filmmaking. All the economic madness of ‘Hey, we’ll have to do it here. Try and make this work.’
So we made Albuquerque work for Albuquerque, but having worked with Alice Eve before, who does a very credible American dialect, I said, ‘You know what, this time let’s go with the English dialect. You’ll be the one to explain what a dirty weekend is. Coming from you it will make sense.’ I didn’t want to give up the title, but for a couple of Americans it didn’t make quite as much sense.
If it had been set in England do you think you would have had her do an American accent?
Neil: It’s possible. Yeah, I mean we certainly thought about it when we did Some Velvet Morning. We knew in the beginning that in the end she would her dialect, but it made more sense to me because she actually is English to have her switch and be American. It was like, “Wait, she’s really English!” So it was nice to have her use her own dialect, and be the one to explain what [a dirty weekend] was.
But that just lead to this idea of a buddy movie. A road picture about two people who weren’t in love and had their own kind of private, very specific thing that’s going on in their personal lives. And how we don’t really know the people we’re around. We’re around so many different people, it’s not like we’re in the same office for ten years, so we’re constantly around people and so you know them even less. As intimate as it suddenly feels for two or three weeks, you become quite close but you are actually working hard enough and fast enough that you don’t really know them very well.
It’s one of those things where it’s interesting to see two people discovering things about each other that doesn’t lead to a romance. That they’re still in kind of the same place that they were. That they’ll probably just go on with that. What I liked about it, the events that took place weren’t life changing. I think once he figured out what had happened, he does it again. He doesn’t go, “Oh, I shouldn’t do that,” he tries it again. Then it’s like, “Wait a minute, maybe that’s not the answer to life. Maybe I still have all my problems, I should just go home and deal with that.” One thing kind of begets the next thing.
I thought it was curious how you mentioned sweetness at the premiere, I’m not sure it’s a word that you could attribute to the movie if it had come from most other filmmakers, but I totally see it with your movie. It’s there, but there’s all this content that’s much less heart-warming. Was the sweetness your driving force in putting the characters together?
Neil: No, I think it happens in the process. Actors tend to warm up the character because they’re alive and tangible. You go, “Oh, they’re just like me. They have problems and so I can identify with that person.” So you put some actors together, they start breathing life into those characters, and suddenly I saw how real those people were. Then you start carving away at that and thinking, “How can I make that the feel of the movie?”
As strange as the little odyssey is that they’re on, it’s really coming from a place of desire and frustration and wanting a real connection in their lives. So I think the same for [Gia’s] character [and Phil’s character] who’s just driving around and picking people up all the time, trying to make connections with people. It’s just about frustration, desire and that idea of connecting with someone.
Gia and Phil, how did you first get involved with Dirty Weekend?
Gia: I worked with Neil before in a lot of theater. He came to me with the script and said, “I think I have a sweet, little role here.” I read it and I thought it was really charming. I felt the whole script was charming and knowing that Matthew Broderick was involved, and Alice Eve–
Phil: –And Phil Burle.
Gia: I just think they’re both so awesome.
Phil: And Phil Burke.
Gia: I’m getting there.
Neil: She’s working her way up to you.
Gia: I just knew I wanted to be a part of it and part of telling that kind of a story about people who are trying to figure out how to deal with problems. My kind of movies are people who are sitting there and actually figuring out, discussing how they’re going to fix a problem.
I guess as an actor that’s what you really want to sink your teeth into is the figuring out of the problem, and how you come to a decision. So that’s what was exciting to me. And then Phil, who I’ve worked with before. Not together, but in the show Hell on Wheels.
Phil: I think we’ve actually done like three, four projects together?
Gia: Several projects together.
Phil: But we’ve never actually worked together.
Gia: So when I heard that he was a part of it, I was like, “Damn!”
Neil: That’s strange, I never realized that.
Phil: As for me, Neil gave me a call because he knew I was a big balloon enthusiast. So he was like, “What do you think about New Mexico?” I said, “It’s probably my favorite balloon spot on earth.” So he was like, “Well listen, man. I’m kind of doing this thing, you want to come down?” And I said, “Let me just fold my balloon into my backpack and I’ll head down to Albuquerque.” So I was very chuffed and very grateful to have the opportunity. Where he goes, I will follow.
Gia: Me too.
Neil: Thank you guys.
Phil: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve worked together before, and like I said, I mean that in all sincerity. I just love the conversations he brings up. Everybody last night was like, “What’d you think about it? What’d you think about it?”
Gia: All the theories.
Phil: “You know, what’s going on.” I love the conversation between these two people. The fact that it’s a practical relationship because they’re work colleagues. The fact that everybody’s got secrets. We don’t know the people who we actually spend so much time with. That conversation about discovery of each other but also, “Do I like this? Do I not like this? What’s up? Do I taste the rainbow again? I don’t know. Am I a big fan of Skittles? I’m not sure, I’m going to buy another pack and see how it goes.”
Neil: What a strange and wonderful analogy.
Phil: It was just a gift. It was always a gift to work with Neil. And Gia. Even though we haven’t worked together.
Gia: But we have. IMDB says we have.
Neil: Maybe that’s what the gift is. To not actually work together.
Phil: Basically we’re magnets. Pointing at each other but can never touch. Negative polarities.
Gia: It’s happening.
Neil: I’ve never understood [polarity] until you just did [that]. It never made sense to me. So many teachers tried to explain it and you just had a breakthrough.
There’s so much that’s left unsaid between these characters, these characters remain enigmas to a degree. How much do you consciously leave out the material that the audience may want to know but doesn’t necessarily need to know?
Gia: Are we talking about subtext?
Neil: Ew. I hope not. Well it was funny last night hearing a question about the brother and sister, and / or, “Are they really brother and sister?”
Gia: “They’re not really brother and sister.”
Neil: People kind of want things to work out for them so it’s just like, “Make me feel better.”
“Do they have to be brother and sister?”
Neil: Yeah. For having just seen it, people built a relatively elaborate backstory for as to why they really weren’t [brother and sister]. About how protective it was for their psychological well-being. I was like, “You thought about this a lot more than I did really. I just wrote down a brother and sister and you guys have found so many ways to make them not brother and sister.” It’s sort of whatever works for you. I think that life rarely explains itself, at least not in an hour and a half. People are funny and complex, not everything works out the way you think.
That’s ultimately why it was important that once Matt’s character found [Gia] was to go through with it again, and not learn a lesson before he did that. Here’s a guy who’s so uncertain about how he felt the experience he had that he could have walked away without having it again but he probably should have it again. And then realize that it’s not the key to the universe. Same for Alice, that she was left in a place that she’s uncertain about her future, her relationship. All they know is they still have a job and these relationships are kind of going good or bad and that life will go on. This guy doesn’t have a profound reawakening, he just wanted to get home. Maybe change his life a little bit.
That’s sometimes the best stories. The small ones. So for me, it was one worth telling. To find something that was different than what I’d done before and didn’t have all the answers. I think my job is to raise questions, not to provide answers.
Then in portraying those characters, is there anything you have to do as an actor to fill in those details that aren’t provided in the script?
Phil: [to Gia] Did you try going out and being a prostitute?
Gia closes her mouth and mimes locking a key
Gia: Hookers never tell.
Neil: Hooker with a heart of platinum.
Gia: I think that you should, for yourself, have a sense of a backstory. It’s fun. I mean, come on. It’s super fun to create stuff. I know that Phil brought so much to his character. The hula lady. Your Henry V script.
Neil: Just physical things he brought with him.
Phil: Physical things.
Gia: Physical choices.
Phil: And my balloons.
Gia: And your balloons. But it’s fun to create the stuff that’s left unsaid, but also to leave room for on the day, when you get there, the surprises that magically happen in filmmaking. When you’re with another person and navigating what’s happening. So for me, it’s the balance of having the two. Honestly, Neil’s words are so perfectly chosen. The script is just right on, and how you want it, that you don’t really need to do a whole lot more. It’s there for you so you go with that and I think that’s the preparation that you need.
Phil: I think I would agree. I think G.C. is nailing it down.
[Gia throws finger guns]
Phil: And with the flare.
Neil: Authentic gang–
Phil: I spent the movie in a cab, but what I like to do for a lot of projects I’m with I like to try and be everybody else’s character. So I was a prostitute for a couple of days in New York which made a lot of money. Which was great. My girlfriend didn’t like it very much, especially with all those guys I was hanging out with. Which really actually brought me to these gay clubs, which funny enough, I don’t know how that happened.
Neil: You’ve gone down the rabbit hole.
Phil: It’s one of those things when you’re prepping for a role you want to get as informed as possible. New York’s a great place to do that especially when you want to have dirty choices that lead to dirty weekends. Boom!