I saw Thom in a clip from a film he made called “Downriver,” and it wasn’t a showy Oscar clip with snot and tears. It was just like, guy riding a bike, gets off the bike, goes to a cafe, says “Hi,” and looks at a guy. I admire showy acting, but with no dialogue and just movement, you kind of look like a person who is just living a life, not trying to show me something or being cool. He’s looking at the environment and trying to live off it.
I think chemistry happens out of two people who are just open and looking for connection to start with. Even when they first met, they were clearly … especially with Thom who was older; there’s clearly a sense of making sure the other person feels safe and appreciated. I think in Thom I had a fellow nurturer on set. I think the key to directing is nurturing, more than anything else. There were times when I didn’t get in the way. And with Hattie, this is her first film. The opening scene was her first day on set. No rehearsals, too.
No rehearsals? For anyone?
Rehearsals before the shoot were just sitting around and talking. We weren’t acting out things. I did go through especially with the guys, and Hattie, every single line of the dialogue. I would talk about why I wrote it and explain where I was coming from, just so they were aware. But there was no time for, “Do it this way, or this is what it has to mean.” Because we gave room to skip things, improvise, or embellish, or go back and re-shape. And even on set when I say “Action,” that doesn’t mean “Do it now.” The crew is ready at all times, you can just move around, and we will find you. You can wait for the feelings to come and then act those lines.
What was the biggest challenge in shooting the driving scenes that make up a large chunk of the first half? All of that shooting across from each actor, in those long scenes, I can’t imagine that was easy.
We had a police escort and everything. On a busy road, in 2022 on a budget, creating 1999! [laughs] It was really easy, there was a lot of trying and testing with my cinematographer and production designer, Matthew Chuang and Bethany Ryan, just trying to figure out ways we could cover the scene, so that it was textured visually, but the actors still had freedom.