Neil LaBute is returning to the silver screen this week with a film that could very easily be one of his plays. However, despite one setting and only two characters, Some Velvet Morning, starring Stanley Tucci and Alice Eve, was never intended to be seen on stage. LaBute, the author of plays such as The Shape of Things, Reasons to Be Pretty, and The Distance from Here, was looking to return to the medium of cinema (where he has written and directed such movies as In the Company of Men, Your Friends & Neighbors, and Possession), to tell the story of Fred (Tucci), a man who arrives on the doorstep of his mistress Velvet (Eve), whom he hasn't seen in four years, claiming to finally have left his wife.
After premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year, the twisty and claustrophobic Some Velvet Morning will hit cinemas December 13, with a video-on-demand, iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon Watch Instantly release a few days prior on December 10. To prepare, TheaterMania picked LaBute's brain about the differences between screen and stage, the writing process, and why the concept of love is such fertile ground for his imagination.
What's more stressful: writing and shooting a movie or writing and directing a play?
I've found over however many films that there's more stress in general moviemaking than there is doing a play; it's the nature of it. It's the shooting out of sequence. Usually, no matter what the budget and the schedule, there's never enough time and never quite enough money. And there's those other pressures of the sun going down; you have this location for one day. The economics, ultimately, is what it is. In theater, they're smart enough to lock you away in a room for a month and come back and see what they've got. It may be a mess, or it may be great, but you build it in the correct way. You start at the beginning and you move toward the end. That makes a certain amount of sense. No one day is filled with that horrible pressure of, We've got to get this, which then you put on the actors. And they're the ones who need to shine, and then you work and stare at them like, Okay, do it right now. I don't know how they do it but they somehow manage to.
Do you write with certain performers in mind? Were Stanley Tucci and Alice Eve your go-to actors when you started writing?
I rarely do. Occasionally you do something for a benefit or know somebody's involved with something and then you start making it a bit more for them, but no, it was just those two characters. There was an incarnation that almost happened earlier, that Alice was involved with, that fell apart. And it was a different actor who was involved. The second time around, Stanley was available. And he embodied everything I hoped this character would have, especially warmth and humor, which is important.
And Stanley has that constant menacing feeling in his personality, too.
Yeah. That's fantastic. I'm glad that's there, that little bit of a danger, a menace, that makes you worry for her. It creates energy in the room that had to be there to keep it dramatic.
This film was shot in eight days, not a lot of time even by indie film standards. What impressed me was how developed their relationship felt.
You really did buy the relationship, both the secondary one, which you learn a little bit about toward the end, and the primary one, which I think you do believe and get caught up in. They didn't know each other at all and had a couple of days' rehearsal. Most of that was spent sitting around the table working on the script. They had very little time to get as intimate as they did, but they were real troopers.
With two characters and one location, it seems like it could have naturally been a stage play. Or did you flat-out intend this to be a screenplay?
I flat-out said that after I had written it; not as a play, just as a thing. The natural life with something like that probably would have been to finish it, send it to MCC Theater [where LaBute is playwright-in-residence] or the equivalent of, and see what they say. But I sort of stopped myself. I was at a place where I wanted to make another movie like I used to make, small and from my script. People could look at it and say, "It's a play you turned into a movie." I thought, whether they like it or not, they can't really say that, because it's not a play. I made a small, intimate movie. It seemed like the right thing to do at the right time.
I want to say I was entirely surprised by the ending, but knowing your work, I sort of went in expecting that there would be a twist, but I didn't see this one coming.
That's pretty damn well perfect, as far as I'm concerned. I've got a long enough history of stuff that has had twists or surprises or reversals, that to be able to do that with any success is great. And to hopefully not have people feel cheated, because it's such a turn of events. There are those who can get so invested in something and go, "Oh wait, you mean none of that was true? What do I care if it's not actually real?" They can almost take offense to it. That's the danger you run into, but I think it's worth it for the people who come to it without knowing about it or trying to outguess it. Ultimately where it ends up, it's hard to get ahead of. I found it satisfying. But everybody has their own opinion. And they are happy to Tweet about it.
If you could sum up the movie, what would you say it's about?
It's about love, what we do to get it or keep it or find it. What it costs us, sometimes in money or emotional weight. That's often at the heart of what I try to write about. Who are we to say what love is?