“My experience is it comes on faster if you just let go,” someone tells Molly (Eléonore Hendricks) after she ingests magic mushrooms for the first time in “Come Down Molly.” Having left her husband and a baby at home for a reunion of sorts with an all-male group of friends she had in high school, she arrives in Colorado not knowing what to expect, except perhaps to put some distance between herself and a domestic life that’s become suffocating.
Writer/director Gregory Kohn actually introduced Molly for the first time in his 2011 feature debut “Northeast” where she rejected the advances of Will (David Call), a twentysomething in search of meaning through his relationships. “Come Down Molly” finds its title character similarly adrift, though one needn’t watch the first to understand the second. Instead, Kohn casts an eye on what happens when there’s no obvious next step even after committing to a certain path, with some semblance of clarity only emerging with the help of hallucinogens. Naturally, there are also some amusingly awkward situations and unexpected confessions that come out of drug-fueled retreat, but “Come Down Molly” aims for the same transcendence that its main character is experiencing and largely succeeds, due in no small part to an enigmatic and often electric performance from Hendricks and intuitive camerawork by cinematographer Chris Mosson.
Shortly after the film debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival, Kohn and Hendricks sat down to talk about the prospect of revisiting a character in a completely different milieu, only finding the beginning of the film once they knew what they had shot for the middle, and the camaraderie that developed in real life between Hendricks and the rest of the cast, who were actually friends of Kohn’s.
Gregory Kohn: It has this really bizarre four-year track from conceptualizing it to making it, but the initial concept came a bunch of my friends, who were having a weekend where they were going to take some drugs and they asked me to partake. I hadn’t done something like that before, but I did and I remember within an hour of starting to trip on mushrooms, a friend of mine asked me, “What are you thinking right now?” I said, “I want to film this experience. Like I want to film what’s happening right now.” Not just because I thought everything that my friends were doing was really funny, but also because it was a really emotional experience.
Over the years, I started trying to write a story and then somewhere along the way I started thinking about Eléonore and this character from my first film, Molly, who would have been at an age now where she was probably just having a kid. A lot of my friends were starting to have children, so I was immersed in that world and that’s where that element of the movie took shape.
What was it like to revisit this character? Was it unexpected?
Eléonore Hendricks: A little unexpected, but Greg was a real champion of mine. In “Northeast,” I had a little role, but it was just such a fun thing to hear Greg’s reactions to my performing. I’m a very particular kind of an actor, and somewhat odd, I think, but Greg responds to it in some way.
Gregory Kohn: I wouldn’t say odd. I would say unique.
Eléonore Hendricks: Unique. Yeah, sure. Just a little a little bit out of the norm and I was just very pleased that Greg responded to that style that I act in, so when he came to me with another project, it felt about right. I’m not a mom, but I align with that concept.
Gregory Kohn: I am also not a mom. It was a journey for both of us. [laughs] But the movie didn’t really take shape until I started thinking about Eléonore. That was when I could actually visualize it. Everything up until then was [thinking] about a movie about mushrooms because nobody else is talking about this and it’s a really interesting experience. Bill Hicks would always ask, “How come there are no pro-drug movies?” Not that this is a pro-drug movie, but it’s definitely not an anti-drug movie. And Eléonore took it from that initial concept into [a real place] where we actually deal with existential crises that people have as opposed to typical movies where it’s a conflict between another person or a situation in life. I thought that was different.
Eléonore Hendricks: Which was a natural Greg thought.
This might be a superficial reading of it, but it actually seemed to me that this might’ve been a reaction to “Northeast” since you reverse so much of the premise of that film, whether it’s a woman now surrounded by men she used to know, the idea that this was in nature whereas “Northeast” was in the city. Even the color palette seems to be different in that “Northeast” seemed bluish…
Gregory Kohn: I don’t know if it was. It wasn’t like I was trying to oppose something I’d said before in “Northeast,” but it was furthering that world. With “Northeast,” what I was really trying to do was capture a very realistic snapshot of Brooklyn as I was experiencing it. At that time, there was a romance to Brooklyn and I was trying to show that there’s a lot of people that really don’t have any idea what they’re doing. There’s a lot of romantic violence that everybody is partaking in without talking about it. I took that same group of people, which were probably in their late twenties, and I wanted to explore them in their thirties now because that’s where we all are. We’re starting to have kids.
Our generation is just interesting because I don’t feel like we feel like adults and if our parents or our grandparents felt that way, they didn’t show it. They pretended to be adults earlier or were forced to [become them] because they fought in World War II, but our generation is trying to hold on to adolescence as long as humanly possible. I thought that was interesting, so I really wanted to take the same generation and explore it again. And hopefully, I’ll be able to make another movie in another five to 10 years and maybe it’s another offshoot of one of the characters in their forties. I’m just interested in aging, I guess.
You’ve said these were your real friends that become Molly’s high school friends. Were any of them actually actors or did you just throw Eléonore in with them and see how it played out?
Gregory Kohn: Some of them are actors, but but not all. As far as getting thrown in-
Eléonore Hendricks: Yeah, I got thrown in head first. I have to admit I was so nervous about it because these five guys are awesome – they’re all comedic actors and I was really really intimidated initially going into this whole world where you know the banter. I [thought] “Oh my God, I’m not going to be able to keep up with all these jokes.” I did know Jason [Selvig] before, because he was in “Northeast,” but he intimidated the fuck out of me then.
Gregory Kohn: I remember on set, because he just improvs and he’s very quick witted, [Eléonore] was like, “I’ve gotta beat him, I have to beat him” and I was like, “Eléonore, you are not going to do that.”
Eléonore Hendricks: I wasn’t. But Jason took a liking to me — he’s such a sweet person — and after “Northeast” came out, we became friends, so knowing he would be there felt good. Everyone else was just the best. I just had so much fun when I was there. We’d all cuddle in the bed like we were hamsters between the scenes because we became friends and it was such a good rapport with all of them. They all knew one another beforehand and they just accepted me, so I felt really good about that.
Gregory Kohn: That was never a concern for me. We didn’t even have a casting director. [Eléonore] was actually a casting director later to get Lindsay [Burdge] once we started shooting, but as far as that first shoot, which was the tripping section of the movie, I just asked people, “Do you want this role or do you want that role?” Once Eleanor was in place, there was never any question that their dynamic was going to work because Eleanor also has this incredible ability that I have never really seen in anybody else – she’s the most adaptable person I think I’ve ever met. She could be thrown into any world and I do believe [she’d] find that empathy. Like I could throw you into a room of serial killers and…
Eléonore Hendricks: I’ve been thinking a lot about serial killers. I really feel like they just want a hug.
Gregory Kohn: [Eléonore] has this capacity of empathy, which is rare, and I seem to only feel that I think when I’m making a movie or writing a story and I want to feel that more in real life, like when I’m on the subway. But once I knew she would be thrown in with the guys and it would be great, there’s a communal recognition of life which I love in the movie, and I can say that humbly because I feel like I wasn’t completely in control of it. We were allowing the actors to go off and do it themselves and then I would cater the story to their dynamic.
Is it true you only figured out the beginning and end of the movie after you shot the tripping scenes in Colorado?
Gregory Kohn: Months later. Everything was in Colorado, but it’s the stuff that’s at the vacation home and the camaraderie with the guys that was shot first. That was our experimental section because it dealt with the drug trip and we didn’t really know what that would look like – how to make that authentic and giggly and vibrant. Once we finished that shoot, we edited to make sure that everything was there and the story was there. We did have an idea of what [Eléonore’s] character was going through and we would talk about it all the time and once we saw it as an edit, I was then able to really write the character based on what I’d seen and what Eléonore and I had already talked about.
Eléonore Hendricks: Yeah, I had an idea of who she was, but we were constantly bouncing [ideas off one another].
Gregory Kohn: There were some basics we knew. We knew that she’d left her kid and husband behind for the reasons of not being able to handle it. I really like how [the opening scene] manifests this existential crisis of that character, just this disconnect with her family and her sister and how everything has this harmony except for her. It feels like she has this need and she has to get out. Her life and her family’s well being depends on it and a lot of it was me being inspired by Eléonore as a person because – I hate this term but I can’t think of anything better. -you’re a free spirit of sorts.
A lot of what interested me [in making this film] was in experiencing a lot of women in my life who are friends of my wife and I who have kids and they have to give up their career. You see them a year into having a kid and they really aren’t themselves anymore. They’ve lost a bit of what kind of made them so vibrant and amazing. I know they’re doing something that is bigger and better in motherhood, but at the same time there is a small death. We would talk about that all the time. Why Eléonore helped shape this movie so much is that I would just think about her as a free spirit and what does it look like once that’s caged, [even] in something that’s totally righteous.
Eléonore Hendricks: Or that you’ve lost sense of yourself and you start resenting your child and then you start hating yourself. It’s a cycle. You always have to help yourself before you can help anyone else.