Taylor Schilling and Patrick Brice on Their New Film ‘The Overnight’: A Sex Comedy About Way More Than Prosthetic Genitalia
When filmmaker Patrick Brice’s The Overnight premiered at Sundance in January, most of the post-screening chatter focused on artistic butt hole renderings and prosthetic penises worn by the films stars, Adam Scott and Jason Schwartzman. While commendable for its genuinely great comedic gags, there’s certainly more to The Overnight than what’s hiding below the belt. Featuring Scott and Schwartzman alongside Orange is the New Black star Taylor Schilling and French actress Judith Godrèche, Brice’s dinner party farce meets progressive sex comedy follows what happens when two Los Angeles couples share an unexpected, wild night in.
“One thing that our movie does that’s really cool, is that it avoids labels,” says Brice about the film’s refreshingly casual attitude towards sexuality and seeking out the curiosities of desire. What begins as a neighborly pizza get-together swiftly turns into a naked (both literally and emotionally) exploration of their relationships—both with their partners and with themselves. Add in some wine, some weed, some skinny-dipping, and a few bottles of champagne and you’ve got one of the most entertaining comedies to emerge on the independent film circuit in a long time, and one that’s as intelligent and cinematically minded as it is scintillating.
The film plays the Tribeca Film Festival this week, so I sat down with Schilling and Brice to chat about following your creative bliss, ditching labels, and the generosity of The Overnight’s cast.
So where did this story come from? Did you have an experience like this yourself?
Patrick Brice: My last film was Creep, which I made with Mark Duplass. It was this found footage experiment of a movie. We shot it very quickly without a crew, it was just the two of us and a video camera. So that was five days and then we spent the next two years working on it and forming it. It was this crazy, long process and I was just tired at the end of it. In the middle I was wanting to do something else and Mark said if I wanted to write a small movie that we can shoot in a contained way, he’d produce it. So that’s where The Overnight first came from.
It didn’t come from something person, it came from Mark and I talking to each other about movies we like. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf kept coming up and how that movie is an interesting form to bring into the now. I knew I wanted this movie to end in the way that it did, so the process of writing was just going back and trying to justify that these characters would get to the point where they did. When I went off and wrote it, I think Mark thought that it was going to be a little more dramatic, but I came back with a comedy. On the page it reads as a much broader comedy than it actually is, and that came from me just following my bliss with the writing and trying to create these crazy situations, and also having it all justified at the same time. I wanted each of the characters in the film to be going through their own small journey.
Taylor, can you tell me how you became a part of the film and what attracted you to it and your character?
Taylor Schilling: Mark Duplass brought the script to my attention and then we chatted. I was really intrigued by it and also a little terrified by the material. There was a real tenderness to the arch that every character took. I was really interested in that in the nonjudgmental way that Emily was written. There’s such a capacity for her to become some whiny wife, but she’s really reckoning with her own stuff and learning more about herself. So that’s the genesis of it. Then Patrick and I had coffee and started to talk more extensively about the lens that he was looking at the film through. I was really excited about the pairing of the more wild, raunchy arched comedy aspects of it mixed with an authentic filmmaking style. He really cared about the moment to moment and having the character’s journeys be the most important element of the film. Often times those two things are not married and the idea of putting those two things together was very neat.
PB: That also goes back to following my bliss; those are just two things that I love, and I’ve not seen them married in that way before. That’s part of the reason why I feel like this film is a total reflection of the way I see the world in a lot of ways. One thing I’m proud of about it getting it out there, is I feel like it does reflect a new approach to material that isn’t always taken this seriously.
Do you find that need to do something a bit scary and new is what drives you as an actor?
TS: Totally—and the people too. I really go with my gut on what feels exciting and what feels collaborative. I’m excited by people, and that’s the foundation of doing anything that’s good. You meet people you feel like you can hook into, and everything that Patrick’s saying, I could really hook into his vision. I really related to his sensibility. So something that’s new and people that are inspired, is the recipe.
How was the experience of collaborating with Adam and Jason? I imagine they’re wonderful partners to have in a scene.
TS: Adam and Jason are incredibly generous. They’re also such gifted comedians and actors, but there’s a real generosity to working with them. I always had the sense that I was playing with somebody who was a little better than myself, especially because they’re much more attuned to the improve world than I am. But I always felt like all these volleys were set up that I could just succeed so brilliantly just by reacting or being present to the experience that we were all creating. But they’re all just really good. Adam and I had lunch before we started and there was one group dinner, but the other thing I thought was so conducive to the whole thing is that we all just had one big dressing room. It was like a big living room, so pretty much for two weeks we just hung out together. I’d sleep at home and then we’d just come to hang, and we really got to know each other. It was fun.
Patrick, how much of the film was locked in and how much did you leave room for improv? You put Adam and Jason in a room together…
PB: When those guys were dancing with each other in the scene downstairs, there were at least two or three takes that were blown because the camera operator would start laughing. Naomi and I would be watching the monitors and we’d see them shaking. So yeah, there’s definitely improv in the movie, but it was a pretty set script that we stuck to. I wanted everything to feel real and natural as much as possible, so if that meant people were going to be throwing in improvised lines in between, that was just part of it. Hopefully it’s just one actor reacting to another actor in a real way. So it wasn’t like improv in the sense that it was just joke, joke, but it was more like, how can we make this feel more authentic at any given moment. For me, my job is just creating an environment and a situation where these guys feel comfortable enough where they can just go off and do that. I was working with four actors that have so much more experience than me, so it was nice to learn from them, and at the same time be able to guide them with where my taste was going, while keeping in mind the original vision of the film. So because it was such a small crew, a small cast, and such a contained thing, I felt like there was a lot of room to play.
Was it important to you that the film also show a natural and nonjudgemental portrayal of sexual curiosity?
PB: Yeah, absolutely. One thing that our movie does that’s really cool, is that it avoids labels. I was talking about this last night with Judith, but obviously there’s a label on this movie of being a swingers movie—but it’s not about swingers. Even the people that are the swingers in the movie, this is their first time doing it, this is just an experience that they’re having, this isn’t a lifestyle where they’ve put this language on it and defined themselves in this way. When Adam and Jason have this moment at the end of the movie, I didn’t want it to be something where Adam’s character is all of sudden questioning himself and feeling all this shame attached to it, I just wanted it to be this fluid thing that happens as a result of this night and what everyone’s going through.
Taylor, do you enjoy working on a project like this that’s more intimate and immediate than working in television?
TS: There is something so satisfying about working on finite story with a consistent group of people. I find that being able to really intimately track a story with one person is so helpful. We would often times sit before we’d shoot, while it was still daylight, and mess around with the scene we were about to shoot and relate it to the scene we’re shot a couple days ago. There’s a real cohesiveness to it and you can get really deep with it and there’s a trust. Whereas in TV, there’s a cohesiveness to the relationship with he writers and the cast, but because the directors are so transient it’s different. I really appreciate that. I really love making movies, and I imagine a film as going very deep and making a television show as going quite broad. They’re both incredibly valuable and fun in different ways.
Making a film like this, in such a short time with such a small cast is almost like doing theater. You mentioned Virginia Woolf, but were there any other films you looked to when writing or shared with the cast?
PB: It felt like theater on some level because we only had twelve days to make this movie. We would meet at the beginning everyday and go through our sides and if anything felt wrong, we would make adjustments and then we would plug it in.
TS: We reshaped scenes almost every day. After we got that one day of shooting with Jason under our belt, we’d sit down and be like, this happened yesterday, this is what makes sense to me. It was so fun. Then we’d have a script and all do our best to know our lines. It was all scripted, but there was so much room.
PB: But at the same time, there wasn’t a lot of time for us to do that. So we had to get it to the point where we felt like we had enough and then go because we were shooting like ten pages a day. I would love to have the luxury of having long conversations with Taylor before we started and making her watch movies. That’s always been a dream of mine as a director, getting to work with actors and really getting into it, but we didn’t have that, that just didn’t exist. So for me a lot of it was just surrendering any ego of any kind when it came to that and just focusing on the story, focusing on the characters, and focusing on the work. When you have collaborators that are as focused and intelligent as these guys, it was one of the best experiences of my life.