As soon as Lila Neugebauer and Jennifer Lawrence met, they knew they wanted to make Causeway together. Soon, she was attached as the lead actress and producer — and when it came to choosing Lawrence’s co-star Brian Tyree Henry, Neugebauer never considered anyone else.
Following the story of Lynsey, a U.S. soldier who returns home from Afghanistan with a traumatic brain injury and struggles to adjust to everyday life, Causeway arrives Nov. 4 on Apple TV+.
“About six weeks after I read this script and attached myself to it, I heard that Jen had read it and, as I had, had a very strong reaction to it,” Neugebauer said at a Santa Barbara International Film Festival Cinema Society event.
She and Jennifer Lawrence had dinner together and connected “very deeply, quickly,” Neugebauer said. “We’re very aligned creatively and aesthetically, and I think both felt from that first encounter a strong instinct that we would have a very fruitful creative partnership.”
Brian Tyree Henry was the perfect person to play James, the unlikely stranger with home Lynsey bonds over each others’ traumatic experiences. Neugebauer has known him since she was 19.
“When I read the script, he was the first person I wanted to cast, and really the only person. I didn’t want anyone else to play this part,” Neugebauer said. “He can do anything. And I think he is an actor of such kind of astonishing depth of spirit; magnetism. I mean, you just look into those eyeballs, and I feel like a universe of experience and meaning is made available to you. He will make himself so exposed to the camera in a way that I find so beautiful and painful.”
Henry and Lawrence’s nuanced performances meshed well together on screen. For Jennifer Lawrence, Neugebauer saw it as somewhat of a return to her roots.
“I, too, feel connections in this performance to the earliest work of hers I was exposed to, which was Winter’s Bone. And I guess what strikes me — I mean, she is a woman of great range — what I continue to be very struck by in this particular register for her is that there is such a raw depth of feeling that can be conveyed in such a subtle and understated register, such a restrained register, and which I think requires tremendous discipline.”
Causeway is Neugebauer’s first time directing a feature film. Her extensive background in theater not only prepared her for the job, but also supplied her with her supporting cast.
“One of the great joys of showing up to set — I mean, there were many, but as this is my first film — was to feel so at home because… every single member of the supporting cast in this film is someone I knew from the New York theatre community,” she said. “So that feeling of shared culture, creative culture, created a kind of shorthand.”
Main Image: Causewaydirector Lila Neugebauer courtesy of Santa Barbara International Film Festival.