“I remember my agent told me Blue Velvet was panned by critics when it first came out and people hated it, they were disturbed by it. Jim [Hosking] reminds me of David Lynch in a way.”—Aubrey Plaza
After only two feature films and a hand-full of shorts, it may seem premature to call writer-director Jim Hosking a true blue film auteur. But I stand by the claim. Sure, the moniker is grossly over-used—often ignoring the collaborative nature of movie making—but anyone who has witnessed Hosking’s distinctive mix of demented melodrama, garish aesthetics, and absurdist humor will understand exactly where we’re coming from. His films don’t believe in traditional narrative arcs or thematic unity. Instead, they seem determined to keep the audience off-balance and more than a little uncomfortable. If David Lynch and John Waters had a baby, it might look something like Jim Hosking.
The Greasy Strangler, Hosking’s 2016 debut, was a low budget, gross-out, slasher comedy with an oddly affectionate father-son bonding subplot. It made an unexpected splash at Sundance, earning him equally vocal fans and foes. His latest effort, An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn, saw an increase in budget and star power, a decrease in visceral shocks, but no change in Hosking’s embrace of endearing kooks, outré humor, and arch weirdness. It’s a glib misfits-on-the-run rom-com that may not actually be any of those things, leading once more to a split reaction from Sundance audiences.
Such is the nature of Hosking’s work. He specializes in depicting impulsive freaks and losers who yearn for things that are beyond their reach. But to ask if there’s a point to it all is to miss the point. The worlds that Hosking creates—from the polyester costumes to the goofy wigs to the random shouts, grunts, coughs, and stares that interrupt dialogue—operate under their own rules.
Needless to say, any cast game enough to play in Hosking’s sandbox has to surrender to his unique and exacting vision. For An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn, the filmmaker attracted a hell of cast, including Aubrey Plaza, Jemaine Clement, Craig Robinson, Emile Hirsch, and Matt Berry. MovieMaker was fortunate enough to chat about a number of topics with Hosking and most of his cast at the festival.
First Reactions to Jim Hosking’s Script
Craig Robinson (CR): I read the script, then I saw The Greasy Strangler, and immediately said, “I want some of this weirdness in my life.”
Aubrey Plaza (AP): I read the script, not having seen The Greasy Strangler and not really knowing anything about Jim. Then I watched his first movie and thought it was completely insane, something I had never seen before. It was like it hacked into my 12-year-old sense of humor. Then I started researching Jim, and I remember the moment it clicked for me. I went on his Vimeo page and I was watching a bunch of these weird short videos he made. There’s one called Doctor, a two minute video where a woman comes into a doctor’s office and says that she wants a mustache. Then, the doctor reveals that he has a mustache on his butt. It’s really stupid but there was something about it that made me laugh so hard. I watched it over and over again. I couldn’t shake it. I decided, I’m gonna do this.
On Establishing the Same Weird World
Matt Berry (MB): Honestly, you just do what he [the director] tells you. But you don’t get involved in something unless you’re interested in the world in the first place. If you’re serious about comedy, I think it’s important to work with as many different directors as you can.
AP: During the shoot, Jim and I connected right away. We were always on the same page. He has a real grasp of filmmaking, that great combination of being really specific about some things while also allowing other things to happen spontaneously. He has a very clear vision and opinion about everything; he uses this to create a world for you to play in. I think those are the filmmakers that are worth working with.
Jim Hosking (JH): I’m pretty specific with the things that I like. Even with Jemaine [Clement]’s look, I just plucked things out—I remembered this hairstyle a peripheral character had in an old Scottish film. It was called That Sinking Feeling, directed by Bill Forsyth who did Gregory’s Girl. And then I combined that with a mustache in a French film I liked. I also had some glasses with yellow lenses when I was fifteen, and I wanted to throw those in as well. So, I might be very specific about a lot of stuff, but I also like to keep things really, really loose, to the point where people don’t really know what they’re meant to be doing. I remember, during the first scene I did with Jemaine, after maybe one or two takes he wandered over to me and said, “You know Jim, I quite like my directors to give me directions.” But I was waiting, wanting to see what Jemaine would do naturally.
Jemaine Clement (JC): I guess I should say that it’s good to have a go first. Because the actor will come up with an idea and they should have a go at doing it. But I have seen other directors who would say, “Do it really fast,” and I would say, “You don’t know how fast I’m going to do it.”
JH: This is the first time I was working with more established actors. Usually, my cast is filled with people who bring a lot of their natural selves to the process, and then I really impose myself quite hard on what they’re doing. With Aubrey, Jemaine, and the others, I felt like it was a privilege to be working with them, and I wanted them to bring whatever they wanted to bring to the table. We didn’t have time for rehearsal so there was a bit of “Let’s just see what happens.”
On Aligning Comedic Instincts With Cast and Crewmembers
CR: Well, my character mostly just grunted. I’m always hoping for less dialogue, so this was a dream come true. Honestly, it’s just so unlike anything I’ve ever done. I’m happy to broaden my horizons when it comes to comedy—I’ve had to do that since day one. I would read scripts at a table read and everyone would bust out laughing and I’d be like, “I don’t even know why that’s funny,” but you just keep going.
JC: Sometimes, that’s the exciting thing about working with someone else, you might not even be aware that it’s funny. I’ve got my idea of what’s funny and everyone else has theirs.
AP: I think I approach every character and every project the same way. I never think about things like, “This is a crazy, insane comedy so I’m going to go for the laughs.” I really just commit to the character; I try to treat the character like a human being. I have to say though, working on this was scary because I had no idea what Jim was expecting me to do. I remember on the first day, the first scene we shot was Jemaine and me in the hot tub. [laughs] That’s a really intense way to start the shoot, but it ended up being really organic. Jim doesn’t like to over-analyze or over-discuss things. He just lays it out there and lets you play around. I think once we got going it became less scary and much more fun.
JC: Even though I’ve acted in a lot of stuff I still don’t think of myself as an actor. So you know any kind of guidance…
JH: I think it’s funny that you feel that way. You feel you want guidance, but you’re a really good actor. You don’t always need that guidance. If it’s too much, it’s going to become suffocating.
JC: It might be my own insecurity from not having studied acting or anything like that.
JH: We’re all a bit like that. We’re all trying to pluck something from mid-air a lot of the time, aren’t we? We aren’t like the councils where we’ve got certificates that show that we know what we’re doing. It’s this nebulous fucking thing. But there’s also a lot that does end up feeling like it came from me.
JC: When I saw the film last night—things that I definitely wouldn’t have thought of and found very uncomfortable to actually perform, I quite enjoyed watching. A lot of shouting, and I’m not naturally a shouter, as well as a big speech about poo which I didn’t know would work. I found it really funny. It’s really hard to surprise yourself, but if you’re working with someone else’s idea, you just might.
On Moving From TV to Independent Film
JC: [Shooting a film] is a more intense, concentrated experience than television. We all move to this little town together and that’s all you think about. You can be more emotional in your performances because you have more time to think about it, to be in it.
AP: Filming on location somewhere, having a camp-like experience with these other artists, feels like you’re in a traveling band of circus freaks or something. I just love that.
CR: On a smaller budget film like this, you don’t really have time to rehearse. I met Matt for the first time and then we had to perform together the very next day.
MB: I’ve done a lot of jobs like that. Where you just meet the person that you’ll be doing your scenes with on the set. The older you get, the more you hang back a bit to see where things are going. When I first started out, there was this temptation to just keep getting bits in, to let people know that you’re there. But as you get more experience, you just—
CR: Let it come to you.
AP: A lot of times there are more interesting characters and stories in the independent film space. I think people assume that actors are getting offers left and right. I do get offered movies sometimes, but I generally get offered parts that I’ve already done. It’s kind of frustrating because, while I’m very grateful to be in a position where I’m getting offers, a lot of the things I want to do, I really have to fight for. Because of this, I’m proactive in trying to find new material, trying to work with people I want to work with. For me, it’s all about the filmmaker.
CR: This was definitely a film to creatively challenge me. And since I wanted to diversify my portfolio, as it were, there was a sense of “OK, let’s get something super weird on the resume, something so wacked out that not everyone is going to see it.” I imagine that five years from now people will say to me, “Hey, I saw this weird movie you were in…” That’s what makes this so worth it to me.
AP: The annoying part is that sometimes you don’t get an audience. I don’t do movies for myself. I like doing movies that people will see. That’s part of the process too.
On the Future, and Adapting to Changes in the Film Industry
AP: I’m just always trying to find the right material, the right character, and the right story. I would say I’m always trying to do something different than whatever I did last. Ultimately it comes down to the question: is this the kind of space I want to exist in for a month of my life, or two months of my life? I’m so picky now that I really only want to work with people that I respect, that I feel I can learn from.
MB: Given all the ways you can watch things now, I think there’s a young generation that doesn’t really concern themselves about whether something is a film or a series because it’s all on one platform. That’s changing things for everyone.
CR: I want to do more dramatic work. Last year I was in a couple of dramatic films and it got my appetite wet. I really enjoyed taking my time with something. As fun as comedy can be, it can also be quite rushed. In drama, you get to make a meal out of stuff. My acting teacher used to say that comedy is ping pong and drama is tennis. MM
An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. All images courtesy of Sundance Institute.