Chloe Sevigny and Director Chris D’Arienzo: The SXSW Interview

Chloe Sevigny and writer/director Chris D'Arienzo talk about the film, Barry Munday! The casting, writing and Billy Dee Williams!

Writer/director Chris D’Arienzo and Chloe Sevigny sat down to talk about their film,  Barry Munday, in another roundtable interview at SXSW.

Chloe plays Judy’s sister and guess what? In this story of oddballs, she plays a relatively normal person. I said relatively, right?

This is writer/director Chris D’Arienzo’s first film but I’m sure you’ve heard of his hit broadway show, Rock Of Ages. Chris did the book for that and also wrote the screenplay for the big screen version which is about to start shooting.

Barry Munday is a fun, kooky comedy and it even stars Billy Dee Williams. How could you not want to see this film?

And if you can, listen to the audio interview. There’s much more that I didn’t include.

Chloe, one of the first lines in your film is, “I’m a slut.”  So, I’m wondering what it is about the character and the role that attracted you to this?

Chloe:  I think it was more the overall project than the character.  I think everybody involved and meeting Chris and talking about the film and what he wanted to do with it.  And kind of his references to other films that he loved, the kind of movie that he wanted to make.  I’ve never been in a comedy, a straight up comedy before, so that of course attracted me to the project.

American Psycho could kind of count for that.

Chloe:  Do you think?  (Laughter)  Black comedy, very black.  And the other actress involved, of course, Judy [Greer].  Big fan of Judy’s since Jawbreaker.  And I thought the relationship between the sisters was very sweet, and even though I think that the character’s a little biting behind her back, she still really loves Ginger.

Chris, from a casting standpoint, when you were writing the script, did you immediately think of the actors you ended up casting?

Chris: No, I never would have dreamed of it.  Most of the casting process for me, was, ‘Really?  You think they’d do it?’  I never would have dreamed to have this cast.  But when it actually became the process of casting, I just had a lot of fun with who is your dream person and start there.  As far as certain characters like Billy D’s [Billy Dee Williams] character, Lonnie, and Chloe as Ginger’s sister Jennifer, in those two instances I was like, Jennifer needs to be the coolest person in Ginger’s world just like Lonnie’s kind of the coolest person in Barry’s world.  So I just kind of went for who I think are the coolest actors.

What spoke to you in the novel?

Chris:  I mean, the characters were really specific and human, they weren’t traditional romantic comedy characters.  They were flawed and their flaws were really naked.  And I just really liked that.  When I read it, there was a way to do this that was kind of in the spirit of comedies that I really love.  Movies like Harold and Maude or The Graduate that are just kind of –

Chloe:  It has a real Altman feel, too.  Early Altman.

So as your first time directing, did it make you more nervous or more at ease having such a great cast behind you?

Chris:  Completely terrifying at times. One of the things we wanted to do was do lots of masters and let scenes play out in one shot and you can only really do that if you have great actors. So, once we were actually working and we were in this kind of structure and we’re going to try this all out here in this one shot, then I was completely at ease because I didn’t have to worry.  Everyone was just completely at the top of their game.

Chloe:  I have to say it was the calmest set I have ever been on.  And one of the funniest. I mean, everybody was so relaxed.  So mellow, and everybody got along.  I was like, ‘What the hell is going on?  Are we making a movie here?  Shouldn’t there be tension?  Shouldn’t people be screaming about getting the shot?’ We did minimal takes and minimal set ups.  It was really nice.  Really laid back.

Chris:  We had that big party scene, and it was shot at an apartment complex, and it had a pool.  And nobody between takes would go to their trailer.  It was like a pool party.

Chloe:  Everybody was just chilling out, everybody got along (laughing).  It was shocking.  It’s so rare that you experience that.

Chloe, how do you go about choosing the roles that you take?

Chloe:  More and more like I said it’s the overall project.  Meeting the director, hearing what they want to do with their film, and the script obviously and who else is involved and producers.  You know, I generally work with writer/directors, that’s something I’m attracted to.  Directors who I think have a strong vision.  That’s basically it (laughter).

So you directed this, but you also did the adapted screenplay.  Was it hard to take a work that already existed and put it up on the big screen?

Chris:  I had been a screenwriter for a while. This was my first adaptation, and I actually really enjoyed the process.  There was something really fun about it.  The way I did it this time, I just took it at first on legal pad and went through chapter by chapter and just turned the novel into a screenplay. So, I had this unwieldy, huge screenplay.  And then once it was in that form, I felt like I could kind of do the math of like, okay, we’ll take this out, maybe put this in.  So, I actually had a lot of fun writing it.  And we had a lot of fun making it.  So, it was definitely the most joyous thing I’ve ever done in my life was making this movie and writing it and everything.  I mean there are hardships in making independent film, but as far as that goes, I think we got off really easy and had a really great time.

Chloe:  There’s a lot edited out of the film.  I’m curious.  Can I ask a question (laughter) about losing so many of those scenes?

Chris:  That’s the hard thing, too.

Chloe:  There’s even actors credited in the beginning that aren’t even in the film (laughter).

Chris:  I know, there are tons.  My first cut was like the Godfather cut, like three hours long.  Because you can’t help when you write it and be a little precious.  You’re like, ‘But this was so important to me when I wrote it.’  And actually, I had an editor that just did a cut that just really shook the tree, just really did a harsh cut. But what it did, was then there were conversations we had where you go, ‘I guess that makes sense.’  And really just getting to the heart of what the story was.  There are all these crazy scenes that we just realized as we were going, ‘Oh but it’s really not about that anymore.’  And then there were great scenes that we just loved.  There are things, some of the funniest things that unfortunately will be on the DVD I guess.

Chloe:  I just imagine as a director it’s impossible to let go of those things.

Chris:  Yeah, but then you have them in there and the audience doesn’t like anything (laughter).  It was crazy.  It was a real education.

Do you have anything else in the works?

Chris:  Well, I wrote a musical that’s in New York right now called Rock of Ages, and so I’ve been doing a lot of work, like having to set up different companies of that.  So, I don’t really have a project lined up right now.  Which is kind of nice.

Chloe:  If it travels, you should see it.  I’ve seen it twice.  It’s very funny.

They’re making a movie of it?

Chris:  Yes, I wrote the screenplay for that.  Adam Schankman is directing that for New Line.

When is that gonna go into production?

Chris:  They wanted to do it really quick.  So now that he’s done with the Oscars, I think.

Chris, when you cut somebody out of the movie, do you have to make that phone call or how does that work?

Chris:  Yes. I mean, I guess I don’t have to.  Luckily, there are so many of my friends in this movie.  And I was like, ‘Hey, this is what happened.’  Everyone’s really cool about it.  It was astonishing.  It’s kind of just what happens.  The one thing I will say across the board and I think this is exactly the only way a movie gets made is on some level you’re kind of like making a religion.  And people are either true believers or they aren’t.  And I think the one reason this was successful is that Church of Barry was like (laughter) really sound.  Everyone was a real believer and loves the movie and kind of added an authorship to it, and so even those calls people were genuinely like whatever’s best for the movie.  It was really nice.

So obviously not everybody got to see the Q&A last night, so I was wondering if you could just retell the story of Billy D. Williams and getting him involved.

Chris:  It was that conversation where we went to L’Hermitage. Which is like anytime I’m in that lobby, I don’t know if you’ve had that experience, I only see rappers and NBA stars like all that time.  And so hanging with Billy D. was like hanging with the Pope (laughter).  It was kind of fantastic.  He doesn’t do a ton of movies now, but he’s such a fantastic actor and a wonderful guy and he was really sweet.  And he was like, ‘So why did you think of me for this?’ And I said, ‘Well, I just think Lonnie needs to be the coolest guy in Barry’s universe, and I was trying to think who is the coolest guy in my universe.  It’s Billy D.’  And he just kind of looked at me and went, ‘And you’d be right.’  And we got really close actually, it was like really sweet.  We would go have dinner all the time, it was just awesome.  He’s a really, really wonderful guy.

What’s your advice to actors from a director’s standpoint and obviously from an acting standpoint?

Chloe:  I mean, I had a lucky break so I never know what to say to that.  I always surrounded myself with people I thought were doing something, that were proactive.  That were trying to get something made, people working in fashion or film, writers, artists, or whatnot.  I always just surrounded myself with people who were proactive, and I think that can really help.

Chris:  For me, it was I think it’s the same thing for acting or writing or painting or directing.  I think it’s just, you just have to develop your own voice.  Really what people respond to is authenticity and specificity.  And being your own unique artist.  And I think if you go into any situation like, ‘Oh this is I think the thing that will sell. This will be my next big Adam Sandler studio movie.’ If that’s the very first thing you write, I think you’re destined to be a hack.  I think you always need start from a really authentic place.

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