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Interview Exclusive HTF Interview: Actress/Writer/Director Clea DuVall (The Intervention) (1 Viewer)

Neil Middlemiss

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Clea DuVall, a notable actress with roles in a variety of film and television projects, such as The Faculty, Identity, Argo, But I’m A Cheerleader and HBO’s Veep to her name, stepped behind the typewriter to pen the script, and behind the camera to make her directorial debut in a funny and dramatic relationship drama. Assembling a likable group of young actors, and appearing herself as part of the ensemble, The Intervention manages to avoid farce even as the various couples begin to fray at the seams while planning an unusual intervention to tell one of the group’s couple friends that to be happy, they should divorce.

With an acutely understated hand at comedic writing and a savvy insight into how couples erect masks to keep the relationship boat from ricking, DuVall delivers a number of good scenes where as the group breaks into smaller groups, conversations take place that reveal fears and foolishness, and fractures in public veneers that will ring true to many audiences. There may be a lot familiar about the people we meet and the struggles they ultimately face, but DuVall brings a freshness to the material with her keen dialogue that seems satisfyingly natural, and her mix of relatable characters that keep things interesting for the entirely of the relatively short run time.

The film stars Melanie Lynskey (Two and a Half Men), Natasha Lyonne (American Pie), Cobie Smulders (Avengers: Age of Ultron), Jason Ritter (Parenthood), Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation), Vincent Piazza (Boardwalk Empire), Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) and Clea DuVall (American Horror Story).

The Intervention is available now on DVD and Digital HD.

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HTF: I'm always curious when I talk to makers of films that are personal, films where creators are championing all the way from securing the funding to taking it to festivals and premiering it - what was your primary inspiration for this story?

Clea DuVall: When I decided I was ready to write something that I was going to try to get produced I wanted to tell a story that was going to be relatable to everyone. I think that the one thing that every person - no matter where they are, no matter who they are - can relate to are relationships. I think that they're fascinating and I could talk about them all day. Whatever your relationship is, I could talk to you about it all day [chuckles]. I just think that the anatomy of a relationship, where it's at, and how it got there, is really fascinating.

And I also have a lot of really close friendships in my life. And I think that friendships are so important but with that can also kind of create a bit of a murky boundary situation. I was at a place in my life where I really thought I knew what was best for everyone around me and then had this realization that my life was a complete disaster. And the more I was focusing on everybody else, the less I was focusing on me and my own problems. That sent me on this path of doing work on myself in a way that I never have before and being honest with myself in ways I never have before. I wanted to bring that authenticity and that honesty to a story, and so it all kind of went from there. The desire to just be truthful, and authentic, and relatable.

HTF: I love how you write dialogue, and it's the small moments between the characters that really stand out. And you capture awkwardness well, whether that's awkward moment or awkwardness from a person. Is that something you relate to, or recognize in yourself? Or is it just you with your study of human behavior and human relationships that you can see that and dissect that in others around you?

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“We do so much as people to not feel uncomfortable and not feel awkward, and I think it's kind of incredible the lengths people will go to not feel their feelings in real time.”

Clea DuVall: I think it's both. I definitely feel very awkward in the world. I've gotten better at being a person as I've gotten older, but I spent a lot of my youth feeling very out of place, and quiet, and shy and through that I was really able to observe people in a way that when you're in the center of it-- like an extrovert, maybe, can't really glean as much as an introvert.

We do so much as people to not feel uncomfortable and not feel awkward, and I think it's kind of incredible the lengths people will go to not feel their feelings in real time. I've gotten to a place in my life where I don't shy away from something just because it's uncomfortable or awkward. I know that it'll pass. And I think through that, being able to confront those feelings and being able to feel out of place and have that still be okay, really gave me an insight into those moments. Also, editing [laughter], trying out those moments and really making it feel kind of excruciating at times.

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HTF: In the film, you let moments hang. There were a few very potent pregnant pauses in the film where you allow the tension to build just enough so that it feels natural and doesn't veer off into parody. And I think despite some larger than life elements to some of your characters - and I'm thinking of the terrific Annie in particular - they all felt like someone we might know or at least remind us of someone. We know. So I'm curious as to your instincts in those moments you written and then filmed, and then when you're in the editing bay and you're having that conversation about where to cut it to let those very awkward moments sit and muster for what feels like an eternity to get the effect that you're looking for.

Clea DuVall: Well, when we were filming, in all of the group scenes, for me, they were more about what was not being said and sometimes entire scenes that have nothing to do with the words that people were saying but rather what another silent character was focusing on. I would sit down with the script supervisor and the DP (Director of Photography) and talk them through the scene and tell them what I wanted to focus on.

“…so it was really about capturing the silent moments so that when we were in the editing room we could cut it in such a way that the silence was doing most of the storytelling for us…”

So when we were shooting, covering people who maybe didn't even realize they were being covered because they didn't have any dialogue, I would say to them, "Think about this," or, "Focus on that," or, "When she says this, it kind of draws your attention here," or whatever. And so it was really about capturing the silent moments so that when we were in the editing room we could cut it in such a way that the silence was doing most of the storytelling for us. I think we really reveal who we are through our behaviors more than through our words because I think that we use our words to present to other people what we want them to see and our behavior is more subconscious and not as easy to mask.

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HTF: Well, that's incredibly true. The scene where the true reason for the weekend getaway is revealed, it's quite emotionally brutal. I mean, I've never been to an intervention, I don't know that I can think of hearing one that's ever actually worked, [chuckles]…

Clea DuVall: Me neither [chuckles].

HTF: [A]nd that scene's filled with a lot of fear, and anguish, and anger, and then there's clearly some resignation. Tell me about writing that scene, then shooting, and how you felt that translated from your page to the screen.

“…in the edit, we played around with things and we drew things out more because I wanted it to feel uncomfortable. I wanted the audience to feel like they were in that room and they couldn't wait to get out [chuckles]…”

Clea DuVall: For that scene, I knew what needed to happen in that scene, and it was one of those very tense things for me when I was writing the script. I knew that everybody's relationship needed to come apart and [needed to find] what would be significant enough for each of these people to, in one sentence, tear them apart. That helped me understand everybody. The group as a whole but then also the couples, just the individual couples. That's what I tried to focus on.

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And then when we were filming, Vincent (who played ignorant husband, Peter) really has to go very far in that scene, and he was really incredible, and everybody was so prepared and present. That was one of the few scenes that kind of we tinkered with the order of certain things and rewrote a little bit just because once it got on its feet there were certain things that just logically needed to change. That felt like a very collaborative-- I mean it all felt very collaborative --but that one we took the most time on [even] in our schedule that was so insane. We were going so quickly all the time. I made sure we had as much time as possible for that so we could take the time that we needed and get it right. But once we started filming, it was really like everybody was so good every take, even though it was so intense and so emotional.

And then in the edit, we played around with things and we drew things out more because I wanted it to feel uncomfortable. I wanted the audience to feel like they were in that room and they couldn't wait to get out [chuckles]. Yeah, that was one of my favorite scenes to cut and shoot.

HTF: It is a very potent scene. A well-written film rises and falls on the strength of the people you've got speaking the words, and you had a really good set of performers. Was it hard to cast, or did you have people in mind as you were putting pen to paper?

“I really wanted to have people who knew each other, even if it was just one person they knew, and I wanted to make sure that nobody was an asshole because [laughter] there is no time and there is no escape, and to have someone who's a nightmare, it's just not worth it.”

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Clea DuVall: Well, I wrote the character of Annie for Melanie [as Annie], and she was a part of it from the start, and then I think Alia [as Lola] was the next person, then Natasha [as Sarah] and Jason [as Matt], and they're all friends of mine. There were other versions of the other three characters but we ran it on these guys who were connected to other people and the cast in some way or another. I really wanted to have people who knew each other, even if it was just one person they knew, and I wanted to make sure that nobody was an asshole because [laughter] there is no time and there is no escape, and to have someone who's a nightmare, it's just not worth it.

HTF: What has been the most important or maybe the most treasured takeaway that you have from making the film and from the largely positive, critical, and audience response that you've had? To your baby, to your work here, what would you say is the thing that you learned the most, either about yourself or about the craft of filmmaking?

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Clea DuVall: I think to have a team who really inspires you, and who you feel comfortable working with, talking to, and making mistakes with and asking questions of. I think the creative team I had with me, in terms of the crew and the actors, being able to really come together, and have a singular focus, and create an environment where everybody really felt safe I think really contributed to the movie that it is because it could have been a shit show, and I think the creative team that's doing it with you is so important.

HTF: Well, congratulations on it. I hope that's not the last we see of you behind the camera.

Clea DuVall: Me, too.

HTF: I've been an fan of yours since The Faculty, which I'm sure you hear that a lot. And from Identity, and, gosh, Veep, Carnivàle and so many other great projects you’ve been just terrific. So all the best to you and thanks for your time today

Clea DuVall: Thank you so much!!

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TravisR

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Thanks for the interview, Neil. Between the cast and an interest in seeing actors take a shot at directing, I'll have to check out this movie. I've been a fan of DuVall since The Faculty too (everyone should look at her IMDB page, she's been in a helluva lot of good stuff) so I look forward to seeing what she's learned from working on other projects.

As an aside, I'm hoping she sticks around on Veep and maybe they'll even be able to give her a couple of more appearances on Better Call Saul.
 

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