Like most actors, Katie Aselton, the star of FX’s hilarious comedy, The League, loves her job. So, when the self-described “frustrated actor” got tired of leaving her fate up to others, she decided to do something about it.
Using her experience of working with her husband (director and actor Mark Duplass), she rounded up her friends and made her directorial debut with, The Freebie.
Katie also stars (alongside Dax Shepard) in the film about a couple who decide to give each other a ‘free pass’ in the hopes of saving their marriage. The film is a wonderful, intimate look at a relationship that you often don’t see on-screen.
I talked with Katie about the all-improv film, her training, The League and more!
So, what made you decide to make this?
Katie Aselton: I’m a frustrated actor! And I just, I love what I do and I wanted the chance to get to do it. It’s so frustrating to sit and feel like your fate is in someone else’s hands and it was just like my head was getting sore from beating it against the wall. And I happened to be married to an incredible do-it-yourself filmmaker, Mark Duplass, who was really done with me complaining about it. He was like, “You know how to do it. Make your own stuff. Make it happen for yourself.” And that’s very easy to say and then much harder to do. But I did it. Once I got over that hurdle of, “I can make my own movie,” cause the way technology is today, it’s cheap enough to make a movie that looks alright. It was then just finding an idea that I really connected with and could see from start to finish and felt like I had an original way to tell it and that came with this idea. Once that happened, everything fell very easily into place.
I know this is all improv. Did you write an outline?
Katie: Yeah. It sounds like it was this loosey-goosey thing but worked from a very detailed outline. It was an outline that had every scene and the arc of every scene. The only thing that wasn’t written was the dialog. Because this is really just a two-person story and where I was playing one of the characters, it would’ve been very lop-sided if I wrote the dialog for both Annie and Darren.
I love to work this way. Its not necessarily the way I was trained but it’s the way I really connect as an actor. I feel like you can really find those awesome, cool, true moments when you’re just going on the fly.
I read that you guys would do some scenes for 30 minutes at a time?
Katie: Yeah, some of those bedroom conversations, we would just let the cameras roll because it was really us just trying to find those moments and find the best way to make those conversations work for the audience. Because you need the audience to be on board in the story, you know? And that doesn’t mean they have to agree with you. I think the whole time the audience is going, “No, please don’t do this.” But, you want to see why they wouldn’t go through with it. So, you need to see and you need to feel the love between those two characters and you need to really believe that they would go so far as to do something like this. So, we would start these conversations and we would let them go into different directions and then we’d be like, “Oh, I love that story about the guy who uses cocaine. Let’s use and then bring it back down to the basics.” So we would pick and choose moments from this very, very long takes. It was really fun it I have to say. It was a long day of shooting those bedroom scenes but it was an amazing acting experience.
You mentioned it earlier but what is your training?
Katie: I trained for theater. So I think you know that actually works in the improve world to just connect with the person that’s right in front of you.
I went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. I took a variety of acting classes before that and then ended up there. But really I think the best training for me was working with Mark and Jay and just having people around you remind you to keep it simple and honest. Stop pushing, stop trying and just be real.
Have you always wanted to direct?
Katie: No, I still don’t really want to direct. I just a sort of now I have the opportunity to. It was never my calling and when I was putting together the project, I had this idea of maybe not even having a director credit and just having it be this creative of collaborative experience. I think that was overly idealistic, you need a captain running the ship and I realize that a couple of days in and actually enjoyed taking that position. But, that being said, it was still a very open, give and take environment creatively. Everyone had creative input on the set and when I say everyone, I mean like all six of us.
But it was really fun. Because I never made a film before, I felt like I was very open to everyone’s ideas and I definitely went into it with no ego or ownership and it was just like, “Let’s have this experience together.” I loved it. I would do something like that again for sure.
Any plans to do that?
Katie: Yeah, I mean I have to say that I came out of The Freebie and it was like, “Aw, well, that’s over. Hopefully, I’ll just get a ton of acting jobs now.” And that didn’t happen, so I think I’m just gonna keep making movies and putting myself in them. Is that totally obnoxious?
No, that’s the coolest thing ever! Now, you’re also in The League, which I love. What’s going on with that?
Katie: The League finished, we are waiting with bated-breath for a season 3 pickup. It’s kinda one of the coolest jobs you can possible have to be on the TV show that’s like edgy and crass and totally irreverent. It’s basic cable, it’s not like we’re on Showtime like we’re pushing the envelope of your basic cable television show and I think that’s very exciting. And I happen to work with incredibly talented people.
What‘s your advice to actors?
Katie: It’s really hard to say because there’s part of me that’s like, just go on make your own stuff but I don’t think everyone is meant to go out and make their own stuff. But I would say, gather your troops together and between one of you someone has a filmmaking gene in them. And just do things on the cheap and keep it simple and that’s a great way to be exercising your talent which is always helpful. And even if you do something really bad, that can be a learning experience too but, you know, get it movin.