It’s something that so many professional actors talk about but only a select few find the courage to actually do…and that is direct.
Career character actor and veteran of both the small and the big screen, Clea DuVall made the decision to put up or shut up as she wrote, produced and ultimately directed the new film The Intervention which hits DVD shelves today. It’s an intense and uniquely amusing story about three couples in their late thirties, the cross roads we hit in our lives and the things that we’ll do to avoid them.
I got the chance to talk with Clea about her experiences as a first time director, what inspired the story, if we’ll see more of her in the director’s chair and so much more.
Dave Voigt: I really enjoyed the film and I suppose my first question to you is what ultimately inspired you to take that leap as an actor into the realm of directing and producing?
Clea DuVall: Well I just love the entire process of filmmaking; I mean being on set is just hands down my favourite place to be in whole world. I love the crews and being a part of that whole process and having been an actor for 21 years I think that I just got to that place where I felt less interested in my puzzle piece and was more interested in the puzzle of filmmaking and storytelling as a whole. I felt ready to tell my own stories, it was just time and this script that I wrote, initially I didn’t intend to direct it at all but then as time went on it just kept making more and more sense as I felt more and more ready and I’m so happy that I did. The experience of directing a feature length movie was so HARD but it was so engaging in a way that was completely inspiring and made me feel the same way I did when I started acting back when I was a teenager and I really really loved then entire experience.
DV: Now obviously being not only in front of but behind the camera can be a fairly daunting experience. Was it important for you to be able to tell a story like this that is smaller and more intimate for your first time out? I have a hard time thinking that anyone would want to direct say a “Marvel” movie for their first time out.
CD: (Laughs) Yeah…that would be VERY daunting. When I wrote this, I did certainly have the intent of getting it produced which is why I obviously leaned towards doing one of those smaller, one location type of stories because you can make them for not all that much money and because I initially wrote it without the intention of directing it is why I put myself in the ensemble and then when I was directing I really did see how complicated it is when you are directing an ensemble cast. Your shooting, your editing when really you can’t see from behind the lens what everyone else is doing because you are right there in the middle of it all. It helped a lot that I had a very strong connection with my script supervisor and my director of photography who just made sure that we were getting everything that we needed and were having extensive conversations with them before anything may happen in the heat of the moment, I wasn’t really running back and forth to playback, especially in scenes that I was in and it was challenging but we had such a great team who all communicated incredibly well with one another and it worked out great.
DV: Being in my mid-late thirties myself I found this story really did resonate with me because I can see it in some way, shape or form in people that I know. Was the story born out of specific moment for you or was it just about trying to capture that moment that can being happening right now in many people’s lives?
CD: It came out of a time in my life where I had just spent a lot of time focusing on other people, focusing on what they were doing wrong and how they could do it better. I would never have those conversations with those people; I would either talk to others about it or just keep it to myself. I was extremely judgemental and then I have this lightning bolt of self awareness one day when I finally realized that I wasn’t in a very good place and I was a bit of a disaster. I realized that the more I was looking at other people and their lives, the less I was looking at my own life and that there were a lot of changes that I needed to make and it was ultimately a very humbling experience for me. When I was working on this story it ends up being pretty comical when you realize that you are kind of mess but yet you know what is best for all of your friends around you. I started thinking about it and that character and it was inspired by Melanie Lynskey because I just knew how well she could play the part and it all went from there as I created an exaggerated version of my less then healthy self.
DV: How did you manage to find a balance while shooting between your directing/producing side against the side of you acting in an ensemble and having fun at this singular remote location on this independent shoot with a bunch of your friends?
CD: Oh that was incredibly challenging to be sure because there were times where I never really felt like I was a part of the ensemble cast but at the same time I would also feel like I wasn’t really directing the whole thing either. Admittedly I was very overwhelmed at times, a lot of was just about keeping my head down and keeping to the shot lists that we had prepared for the day. I just really tried to stay as true the script as I could because it really was my only path and my only guide through the entire process. It was an environment I had been in countless times, but it was the first time for this role that I took on and I really needed that grounding that the script provided because I knew these characters so well and I knew I could always go back to it even while handing these characters over to actors who I really admired, respected and most importantly trusted and having that as the common language for everyone was just so important.
DV: Was it a big cast process for you, or was it something as simple as going through the contacts list in your phone and calling in a few favors which on an independent feature like this one you occasionally have to do?
CD: (Laughs) Well Natasha (Lyonne), Melanie (Lynskey), Alia (Shawkat) and Jason (Ritter) are all really good friends of mine. Then Ben (Schwartz), Vincent (Piazza) and Cobie (Smulders) all came about through various connections via agents and things like that. And yeah there were a few different variations that were in play, I couldn’t be happier with how it ended up because we had a pretty great group that I couldn’t be happier with.
DV: As you’ve said, you’ve been a working actor for quite some time and have been around the business a fair bit. Was there a specific moment that gave you the push to do this or did you have to talk it out with friends and co-workers to see if you were ready because as much as it always gets joked about, getting behind the camera is always a big step.
CD: The thing that really gave me the confidence to take this on was that I was on a project with a first time director and the conditions were really intense. It was a very unusual set of circumstances and I had to take more responsibilities then an actor usually takes on and I was able to do it and more then that I really enjoyed it which left me with the confidence to know that I could take on this kind of challenge.
DV: These days there are just so many ways for people to see a film and things can get lost in the shuffle and I was wondering, ultimately at the end of the day no matter how people get to watch it, what is your ultimate hope for the film?
CD: You know there were so many goals along the way with this film because I really wanted it to get into Sundance and I had to keep telling myself to get it out of my head because it really didn’t matter, I really wanted it and it was a very emotional idea when I found out that we had gotten in. Then you have to confront the idea that you have to sell your movie which is a completely new thing for me to wrap my brain around, and we did that and it was so exciting. Then we find out it’s getting a theatrical run, which was so exciting. I really wanted this movie to be something that people could relate to, no matter social, gender or economic boundaries it all comes back to relationships. It’s FOR people and I hope that they feel understood through watching this movie. The movies that I see where I truly connect with the characters truly make me feel less alone as an audience member. I hope people laugh, cry and feel any kind of connection that they can with it.
DV: It’s time for the big question. Now that you’ve got your first feature film underneath your belt, will you ever do it again or has that need been satisfied?
CD: Absolutely, I can’t wait to do it again.
The Intervention is now available on DVD and all VOD platforms.