Dave Franco: It was definitely a significant part. … I guess that element of the film was inspired by stories that some of my friends told me about trying to rent a home on one of these home-sharing apps and experiencing racial profiling. And you read articles about people who rent the home, fly across the country, and then the homeowner ultimately turns them away because of their race.
And it just felt like something important to address, and also, we use that obviously in a way to create immediate tension between one of the renters who is of Iranian descent and the homeowner, who is white. And yet, like you pointed out, everyone else in the film is white, and they don’t really have her back. And ultimately, they kind of look at her as someone who’s just like a stick in the mud.
Barry Jenkins: Which to me, to be honest, I appreciated that because I feel like it’s more realistic. You know, there’s this term that we say called “microaggressions.” Because usually, white people can’t see them. They’re right in front of you, but you can’t see them. And that’s a classic example of a microaggression… You know, we tried to get the same space, and you told me no. We had the same fucking job!
…I love that as a genre film, it totally works. And all the genre elements really worked for me. I was scared and sometimes I look in the background and you see certain things and deep focus in the back. It’s like, oh shit, that’s scary. And yet, intellectually, emotionally, I also really identified with homegirl’s character—Sheila Vand’s — I really identify with her character and through her. It’s almost like the first Night of the Living Dead. We don’t talk about it so much, but it’s a social commentary. And I felt like this one functioned the same way for me. …
What’s it like to direct Alison? She’s fantastic.
Franco: We’ve acted together, and so we knew that we would get along well on a set, but we’ve obviously never worked together in this capacity. But what I will say is that I’ve always known that she’s an amazing actress. But I swear, watching her intently every day for five weeks, I realized that she might be the greatest actress on the planet and I’m not just saying that because she’s standing 10 feet away. She’s a really unique actor in the way that she’s able to balance heavy drama with moments of levity, sometimes within the space of a single scene. … On top of her just being an incredible actress, it was so nice to have her there with me… this was obviously my first time directing and there were moments throughout the shoot where I would really get into my own head and start to doubt myself in small ways. And so to be able to go home to her every night and have someone who would build me up and remind me that things were going well and that I was doing a good job — it was invaluable and I honestly don’t think I could have done this without her.
Jenkins: How do you think you did? I’m saying I’m proud of you man, watching the film. It’s fucking good, bro. Your eye is legit, man.
Franco: Thank you. That means a lot coming from you, man.
Jenkins: There’s a couple of those profile singles — Sheila has one that is amazing. It’s like that first night, and I think everybody’s on the porch, but you frame her and somehow you isolate her from everyone else. She just has this profile close-up, and it is fucking amazing.
Franco: That means so much!
I mean, here’s what I can say at this point. This is very close to the exact film that I wanted to make from day one. … And to hear someone like you talking about the film the way you are, it’s surreal to me. To hear from someone like you, who I respect so much, who is really picking up on all these small and bigger things that I was trying to layer in there, it’s amazing.
Jenkins: I wish I had seen the film not knowing you directed it, you know?
Franco: How did that inform your viewing experience, knowing that I directed it?
Jenkins: One, I wanted to love the film. I think I’m older than you, but just the idea of a director having directed someone as an actor, and that person then transitioning to the other side — it’s not big brother, little brother, but I kind of want to put my arm around you and be like, “You’ve got this, bro.”
Franco: I’ll be your little brother all day, every day, man.
Jenkins: Even if I didn’t know you had made the film, I would feel the same way. The fact that it was you, it just made me incredibly proud, but really happy for you. I hope this isn’t the only film you direct.
The Rental, directed by Dave Franco, opens in select drive-ins, theaters and On Demand this Friday, from IFC Films. Featured image by Doug Chamberlain.