This week our editor’s weekend pick is Concussion, which won a Teddy Award Jury Prize at the 2013 Berlin International Film Festival.
After suffering from a baseball whack to her head, Abby (Robin Weigert), a rich, married, lesbian housewife realizes that she desires something more out of her picket-fenced, suburban life. Disillusioned, she moves to Manhattan and seeks a way to satisfy her deep emotional (and physical) yearnings. She does not want a mere one-night-stand; she desires to be sexually alive again, and she embarks on this journey in the world of prostitution.
MovieMaker’s sat down with the leads of the film, Robin Weigert and Maggie Siff, and writer/director, Stacie Passon, earlier this year. The following conversation discusses the value of fear in acting, honesty as the last bastion of human hope, and the fact that marriage is (gasp!) not easy.
Timothy Rhys, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): Let’s first talk about how you guys got involved with this project.
Robin Weigert (RW): I guess that question starts with me, because I got the call first for the project in a very unusual way. It came to me as an offer from somebody that I had never met before, who had no other films I could look at. There was this mystery about it. I really liked the script a lot, but I was also afraid because the director [Stacie Passon] wasn’t known to me. It took a little while for me to get on board. I met her and talked to her and she’s so very smart. She had such a clear vision for the project. That was huge, actually, talking to her. Once I was in, I was completely in, and I got involved in trying to encourage good actors to come in with me. That’s where Maggie enters because Stacie and Rose [Troche, producer] very much wanted Maggie and me.
Maggie Siff (MS): Robin called and I got the offer. She said, “There’s this film that I’m doing and I think you’d be great in it.” She sent me the script and I had a very similar reaction to the script. It was very sparsely written, which is always the most interesting thing to me in a script. That is so dependent on having a really smart director and fine actors who can take over these ellipses and fill them with interesting things. Then when I had a conversation with Stacie, I was like, “Well, she’s incredible and has a really confident vision for this film.”
MM: It’s interesting that you brought that up because so much of this film lies in between the lines. It’s almost deceptively inarticulate, because it’s extremely articulate if viewed from the right angle. As an actor, have you done something like this before where you had to fill in so much of the details? Was that more freeing for you to a certain degree or was it more difficult for the both of you?
MS: I have an interesting and sort of critical role in the film, but it’s relatively minor compared to Robin’s character. I found it very liberating because the character is so alluring to Robin’s character. The purpose that she serves in the film is to have mystery around her. She is sort of dissatisfied and content with her life all at the same time, and she has a lot of freedom. She’s a interesting counterpoint in the film. I was like, “This woman has a really interesting life.” We don’t get to see it in the movie but I really had a sense of it. It’s rare to have a role as full as that, where there just aren’t very many scenes but it felt like a very full person in there.
RW: I agree. I understood your character as an extremely multi-dimensional person. What I admired about the script was that there were volumes of these tiny spare pieces of dialogue, and it was clear to me that they weren’t confusing. As complex as the scenes sometimes were, it was never mysterious to me what was going on. I was never in doubt as I read it. I think that some of the spaces that are there allowed for some reconfiguration of scenes and plot elements to tell the story in a different way. It was wonderful to see a clarity emerge in the last quarter of the film, as things were subtly jiggered in the relationship of one moment to another moment, and so on. That’s the genius of movies to me. I’d love to do more of them.
MM: Really well said. Are both of you married?
MS: I’m newly married. I got engaged right around the same time that we were shooting this film.
RW: I seem to manage to be single. I don’t know that marriage is a huge ambition of mine, oddly, unlike most of the population who hold it on a pedestal.
MM: I am married too, fairly newly married. The reason I ask is that I wasn’t expecting this to be a film that anyone who is married could relate to. But it certainly is, middle-aged or not. Marriage is hard, and that’s something that this film makes surprisingly accessible. I don’t have as much experience as I’d like with lesbian hookers, but I don’t think you need to in order to appreciate this film.
RW: Can I speak to that? Oddly, it became really clear to me when I saw it yesterday that the movie expresses this inner life of what it is to feel profoundly unsatisfied, but through this version of acting out. That’s what’s going on inside of married people all the time, they just aren’t necessarily acting on it. But those sort of chaotic feelings of reaching for places to find intimacy are completely familiar to non-hookers.
MM: To me what’s so difficult, beyond marriage itself, is also honesty in marriage. That’s something that your character struggled with, and it’s something that everyone who’s been there has to risk.
RW: There’s great risk in honesty. Someone after the screening yesterday asked me if I thought it was a hopeful ending. I think the hopes lies in that the truth, however they chose to deal with it, has come out between these two. The way I’ve lived my life, I think that the source of the greatest hope possible is the truth being on the table. I don’t know if that means hopeful like butterflies-and-sunshine hopeful, but that the right things will happen for both of these women, within their relationship and outside of the relationship.
[They are joined by Stacie Passon.]
Stacie Passon (SP): Thank you for having me. We had a really neat premiere yesterday and it went so well. We’re so happy to have all these amazing actors around supporting the film.
MM: We talked initially about how you brought Robin on, at least from Robin’s perspective. How did you happen to make the choice of Robin initially for this role?
SP: Robin just completely blows me away. She immersed herself in this character, she learned it, she wrestled with it, she found pain and joy in it, and it touched me deeply. For my first film, to have found somebody who respects that process in that way was nothing short of manna from heaven.
MM: You talked yesterday in the Q&A about working out like a madwoman before to help with your feelings of self-consciousness. Could you talk about that a little bit?
RW: Yeah. There were a few layers to my wanting to do that. One was that it actually felt character appropriate. She sort of punishes herself in a lot of ways. I worked with an amazing trainer who kept me on track both with diet and exercise, which was also important. Another part of it was the demon of vanity, where you know that if you’re looking at yourself at all, you won’t be present. Sometimes my problem with these things is that there’s a terrible self-consciousness to it all.
SP: There’s two scenes specifically that stand out to me in terms of the pain. One is when she takes the shower and you can physically see all the sinew in her back. To me, that is painful to even watch. The other one is when she’s grabbing the tweezers and asking where the tweezers are. I remember my editor going, “She’s ripped! What the hell did she do?” That’s the way a lot of us were and we found that very disarming on the shoot. It was painful to watch, but it helps give the character dimension. You literally see the pain.
MM: I had another question for Robin. I can’t refrain from asking you about the sex scenes. How difficult were they for you to shoot? They’re really raw, really believable. How did you prepare for this? Had you ever done anything like that before?
RW: I had not done anything like that before. I think there’s a certain irony to this response, but it’s the truth. When something is scary enough for me, I go beyond a certain threshold, and I lose myself because I have to. I don’t have a second alternative. I really was lost inside, I wasn’t thinking. It was sort of the only way to cope—what appears brave is actually a symptom of fear, oddly. Maybe that’s what bravery is. The other aspect of it was focusing on the other actress, always. That’s what started to make the prostitution feel more like being a gigolo. My focus was not on being an object of desire; it was on the other person’s body.
MM: You made that believable, whether it was Maggie or someone else.
RW: It was all about her, and whatever energy I was able to bring up in her I played off of that. It’s very much what you do in acting. Acting, as they say, is reacting. So your gift is when it’s coming from the other person and you get to just take it on and take it in.
MM: This is MovieMaker, after all: Stacie, can you tell us how this developed? How did it go from being your idea to being able to produce this?
SP: My idea was to just start to write this stage in my life, and this is what came out. So it was a virtual growing up. A couple of months later, Rose responded to the script. We’d been friends. I asked her for notes and I asked her for help with casting. She’s actually brilliant with casting and has found a lot of major talent. When Robin was submitted I was elated; she was my first choice for the role. We had to go into production very quickly at that point. We had an investor come in very quickly.
MM: What was the hardest thing about making this film?
SP: There was a lot of guilt as a filmmaker that’s associated with being a mother. You don’t want to see your little goslings going on without you sometimes, and very often I didn’t get to give them the time that I wanted to. There was sort of a pulling away from them that was really hard for me. That’s as sincere and as honest as I can be. That was the most challenging part of making the film. MM
Concussion hits theatres, iTunes and VOD on October 4, 2013 courtesy of Radius-TWC. To subscribe to MovieMaker Magazine, click here.