SXSW: Interview with Chris D’Arienzo and Chloe Sevigny for Barry Munday

Scroll to bottom for audio. I sat down with director Chris D’Arienzo and Chloe Sevigny to talk about the new film Barry Munday. This was Chris’ directorial debut and Chloe Sevigny was one of the stars of this brilliant comedy. Previously, Chris has worked as a screenwriter, and Chloe Sevigny has been in many movies such as American Psycho and television shows like HBO’s Big Love. You can read my review of Barry Munday here. This interview was what is called a round-table interview, in which other critics/reporters and myself try our hardest to confuse and embarrass the talent we are interviewing. Just kidding, you will hear other voices though, that I can not name. For the sake of continuity, all questions asked by others will be known as Reporter, and then there are a couple from ME, Angela.

Everyone says hellos to one another and then it begins:

Me: Chloe,

Chloe: Yes

Me: One of your first lines in this film is, “I’m a slut” so, I’m wondering what it is about the character and role that attracted you to this?

Chloe: Well I think it was more the overall project than the character. I think everybody involved and meeting Chris and talking about the film and what we wanted to do with it and kind of his references to other films that he loved and the kind of movie he wanted to make, and um, I’ve never been in a comedy, a straight-up comedy before, so that attracted me to the project.

Me: American Psycho could kind of count for that.

Chloe: Do you think? [laughs][table laughs] A black comedy, very black. Um and the other actors involved of course. Judy, I’m a big fan of Judy since Jawbreaker and I thought that the relationship between the two sisters was very sweet and even though I think that the character is a little biting behind her back, she still really loves Ginger. That’s basically it.

Reporter: Chris, from a casting standpoint, when you were doing the script, did you immediately think that the people you got, that’s who you thought you would get?

Chris: No, I never would have dreamed. Much of the casting process for me was, “really? Do you think they would do it?” Sure, ask them, ask them! I never would have dreamed to have this cast, but when it actually became the process of casting, we just had a lot of fun with like, “who is your dream person?” So just start there. As far as certain characters like Billy Dee’s character, Lonnie…

Reporter: that was great

Chris: And Jennifer for Chloe as Ginger’s sister, I felt like in those two I was for sure. I was like, Jennifer needs to be the coolest person in Ginger’s world just like Lonnie is kind of the coolest person in Barry’s world. So I just kind of went for who I think are the coolest actors I know.

Chloe: And you had a lot of your friends in the movie

Chris: I do have a lot of friends in it, my penis group [table laughs] are a lot of my comedy buddies.[more laughing] That was fun, that was a good day.

Reporter: What spoke to you in the novel?

Chris: The characters were really specific and human. They weren’t traditional movie romantic comedy characters. They were flawed and their flaws were really naked I just really liked that. When I read it, it reminded me that there is a possibility to do this that’s kind of in the spirit of comedies that I really love. Movies like Harold and Maude and The Graduate that are just kind of…

Chloe: It has a real Altman feel to it. Early Altman.

Chris: Yeah, It was kind of these people who if you took their comedies, you really wouldn’t know what shelf to put them on at Blockbuster. I love those kind of movies so if felt that maybe we could walk that line.

Reporter: So as your first time directing, did it make you more nervous or more at ease having such a great cast behind you?

Chris: It was completely terrifying at times, but once you’re actually working, one of the things that we wanted to do was do lots of masters and let scenes play out in one shot, and you know, you can only really do that if you have great actors, so once we were working and we were in this kind of structure and we were like, okay were gonna try this all out in this one shot, then I was completely at ease because I didn’t have to worry, everyone was just completely on top of their game.

Chloe: I have to say it was the calmest set, and one of the funniest I have ever been on. Everybody was so relaxed.

Chris: Yeah

Chloe: So mellow and we all got along, I was like, What the hell’s going on? Are we making a movie here? [laughs][table laughs] Shouldn’t there be tension, shouldn’t someone be screaming, I’m not getting the shot. And we did really minimal takes and minimal setups and it was really nice, it was really laid back.

Chris: We had that big party scene and it was shot in an apartment complex that had a pool and nobody between takes would go to their trailer, it was like a pool party.

Chloe: Everyone was just chillin out, and got along, [laughs] it was shocking.

Chris: Yeah, it was great.

Reporter: You’ve made the film, how are you gonna get it out to people? I’m not sure if it’s a tough sell or not.

Chris: I think it is. I think it’s the worst log line for a movie [laughs] but those are the movies I love. Like a young adolescent falls in love with an elderly woman, that sounds like a horrible movie but Harold and Maude is amazing. Those are the movies that I like that are really about execution, where you say, What is that? That sounds so I don’t know..and then you see it and I love the surprise of that. It was a challenge for me and to see if we could make a really good movie that might sound weird just to talk about. But you just have to hope that it’s word of mouth, I think in the short time we’ve already been here at South by, its been really great that people were talking and were like, No, trust me, it’s not like what you think, its like this. You know, people are kind of doing the work for us.

Me: The incident with the trumpet in the movie theatre, do you think there was any sort of symbolism to the job that you are in and it being in a matinee and being in a movie theatre itself?

Chris: I didn’t even think of that. Uh, there is now. [laughs][table laughs] There’s total symbolism. No, its funny you say that actually, I wasn’t watching the movie here, I was just popping in and out here and there and I wanted to see how that moment played and it was kind of surreal, because it was the first time I had seen it in a movie theater and with an audience and to see that shot, there was something kind of weird about it. It was like looking into a picture of a picture of a picture. That was cool.

Reporter: Chloe, you were great in this and in everything that you do, how do you go about choosing the roles that you take?

Chloe: More and more, like I said, its the overall project. Of meeting the director and hearing what they want to do with the film and the scripts obviously, and who else is involved and producers. You know, I generally work with writer/directors and something that I’m attracted to are directors who have a strong vision, that’s basically it. [laughs]

Chris: That was easy enough.

Reporter: So, you directed this, but you also adapted a screenplay. Was it hard to take work that already existed and put it up on the big screen?

Chris: Um, actually, I had been a screenwriter for awhile, this was my first adaptation and I actually really enjoyed the process. There was something really fun about it. The way I did it this time, and I don’t know, I just took it at first on legal pad and went through chapter by chapter and turned the novel into a screenplay, so I had the unwieldy, huge screenplay, and once it was in that form, I felt like I could do the math and like, “okay, take this out, maybe put this in.” So, actually, I had a lot of fun writing it. And then we had a lot of fun making it, so it was probably the most joyous thing I’ve ever done in my life, was making this movie and writing it and everything, so no, there really wasn’t any… I mean there are hardships in making independent films, but as far as that goes, I think we got off really easy.

Chloe: What about losing, because there are so many scenes? There is a lot edited out of the film. I’m curious, can I ask a question? [laughs][table laughs] About losing so many of those scenes.

Chris: Well, you know, it’s funny, and that’s a hard thing too.

Chloe: I mean there’s even actors credited in the beginning of the film that aren’t [laughs] even in it, because they’ve been edited out.

Chris: I know, That was the thing, it was a big lesson for me. My first cut was like the Godfather cut, it was like three hours long and you can’t help when you write it to be a little precious about it. Thinking, Oh, this was so important to me when I wrote it and actually, I had an editor that did a cut that just really shook the tree and just whatever fruits stuck on and just did a really harsh cut. I was like, Whoa, that is too much, like that’s crazy, but what it did, was there were conversations that we had that were like, oh, I guess that makes sense, and just really helping me get to the heart of what the story is. Because, I think the one thing we noticed was once Barry meets Ginger, you kind of want to stay on that train. We shot scenes where Barry gets kidnapped by the air-guitar guys [table laughs] and there were all these crazy scenes that we just realized as we were going that it’s really not about that anymore. And then there were great scenes that we loved, like there were things that were some of the funniest things, that I guess will be on the DVD I guess.

Chloe: I just imagine as a director, it’s probably impossible to let go of those things.

Chris: Yeah, but then you have them in there and the audience doesn’t like anything.[Chloe laughs] It was crazy, it was a real education.

Reporter: Are you planning an extended version on DVD, or are you just going to do deleted scenes?

Chris: Right now, I’m just hoping to God that people go see it. [laughs] Then we will do the Criterion Edition [table laughs][he laughs]

Me: Do you have anything else in the works?

Chris: Well I wrote a musical that is in New York right now called, Rock of Ages. So, I’ve been doing a lot of work, setting up different companies for that. So, I don’t really have a project lined up right now which is kind of nice, I can just find whatever.

Chloe: If it travels, you should see it, I’ve seen it twice, it’s very funny. [laughs]

Reporter: They’re making a movie out of that?

Chris: Yeah, I wrote the screenplay for that, yeah. Adam Shankman is directing that, yeah, for New Line.

Reporter: When is that going to go into production?

Chris: I don’t know, they wanted to do it really quick, so I think that now that he’s done with the Oscars, I think they’re gonna get that swinging.

Chloe: Whoa, those were a doozy (Oscars 2010)

Chris: Right? [table laughs]

Chloe: Let’s pick up the cues [snaps fingers]

Me: They need to fire the editor also, because the screen shots were terrible.

Chloe: Oh, it was terrible. And then when they paraded the actors out to like talk about the other actors as people, it was like, aren’t we judging their performance, not the way they behave on set?

Me: Oh and Colin Farell’s comment about going to Mexico, that was classic

Chloe: I know really? really?

Me: Probably the most entertaining part.

Chloe: And Peter Sarsgaard talking about that little girl(Carey Mulligan), it just seemed creepy. [laughs][table laughs]

Me: You have another movie here(SXSW) now, is that right? Mr. Nice.

Chloe: I do, Mr. Nice. Yep it screens tonight.

Me: Are you being dragged back and forth?

Chloe: Dragged back and forth?

Me: I mean doing press for that and then later…

Chloe: No, no, today is press for this and tomorrow is press for Mr. Nice, yeah.

Me: I’m going to go see that today, looking forward to it.

Chloe: I haven’t seen it yet…I’m very very…

Chris: It looks cool

Me: yeah, it looks good.

Chloe: It’s my first time with a British accent on the screen, so…[deep breath]it’s gonna be horrific. [laughs][table laughs]

Reporter: Can we hear a little preview?

Chloe: Hell No! [laughs][table laughs]

Reporter: Hey Chris, when you cut someone out of the movie, do you have to make that phone call, or how does that work?

Chris: Yeah, I mean, I guess I don’t have to but [laughs] luckily there are so many of my friends in this movie, that a lot of them were my friends so I was just like, Hey, this is what happened. Everyone was really cool about it. It was astonishing. I mean, you know its just what happens and everyone… The one thing that I will say across the board is, and I think this is the only way a movie gets made is on some level, you’re kind of making a religion, you know. And people are either true believers and I think why this was successful was the church of Barry was really sound [table laughs] Everyone was a believer and loves the movie, and it kind of added an authorship to it, so even those calls, people were genuinely like whatever is best for the movie. It was really nice.

Reporter: So, obviously, not everyone got to see the Q and A last night, so if you could retell the story again of Billy Dee Williams and getting him involved.

Chris: Oh, yeah. Well it was that conversation where we went to Lair Matouge (sp?)

Chloe: Ooh…

Chris: Yeah, I know, right. Which anytime I’m in that Lobby, I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, I only see rappers and NBA stars. So hanging with Billy Dee was like hanging with the Pope. [table laughs] It was kind of fantastic. He doesn’t do a ton of movies now and but he’s such a fantastic actor and a wonderful guy and he’s really sweet. He’s like, “so uh, why did you think of my for this?” And I said, well, I said I just think Lonnie needs to be the coolest guy in Barry’s universe and I was trying to think who is the coolest guy in my universe and it’s Billy Dee and he just kinda looked at me and went, “and you’d be right too” [table laughs] And we got really close too, it was just really sweet to go have dinner all the time. It was just awesome, he’s just a really really wonderful guy.

Me: Everyone knows someone like that too. Because when you told that story yesterday, I was just like, my God, I started thinking of a couple of friends that I know. [laughs]

Chris: really? Just have that swagger? He probably learned it from Billy.

Me: Exactly. Like when you had said, you’d be right, I think I’ve had a friend say that, like, “you know I’m the coolest” [table laughs]

Chris: He does, but yet it’s like one of those moments where you’re like, Yeah, why wouldn’t you completely own it if you’re Billy Dee. You’re that guy. [laughs] You are cool.

Reporter: Can I ask you guys, what is your actors from a directing standpoint and obviously from an acting standpoint?

Chloe: Advice on…?

Reporter: Just for like up and coming actors and young actors.

Chloe: I mean I had a lucky break, so I never know what to say to that. [laughs] I just always surrounded myself with people that I thought were doing something, that were proactive, that were trying to get something made or know people working in fashion or film or writers or art or whatnot. I always just surrounded myself with people who are proactive and I think that can really help.

Chris: For me, I think its the same thing for writing or acting or painting or directing. It’s just, you just have to develop your own voice. Really, what people respond to is authenticity and specificity and being your own unique artist, you know. I think if you go into any situation like, “oh, this is the thing that I think will sell and this will be my next big Adam Sandler studio movie” If that’s the first thing you write, then I think you are destined to be a hack. You need to come and at least start from an authentic place.

Reporter: Chloe, do you have anything lined up before you start next season of Big Love?

Chloe: No, no, just hang out in New York and take some time off [laughs]

Reporter: Looks like you’ve got a couple of films anyway.

Chris: Thank you guys

table: Thank you, nice to meet you.

by Angela Davis

About Angela

Angela is the Editor-in-Chief of Lost in Reviews. She and Ryan created Lost in Reviews together in 2009 out of a mutual hatred for all the stodgy old farts currently writing film reviews. Since launching the site, Angela has enjoyed reviewing indie films over all other films, picking up new music from all corners of the world and photographing live shows. She is the co-host of Blu Monday and a member of the Kansas City Film Critic Circle.

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