Timing was never the strong suit of Ivan Martin and Michael Godere, at least professionally speaking, to go by their new comedy “Loitering With Intent.” Loosely autobiographical, the line between reality and fiction appears to be perilously thin at the start when the two, who wrote the film’s script, step on screen as the chronically unemployed actors Raphael and Dominic, led on a sojourn to the countryside where Dominic’s sister Gigi (Marisa Tomei) lives to write roles for themselves that they’re not being offered otherwise. Only more chaos descends upon the pair once they leave New York, with Raphael’s feelings for Gigi rekindled just when her ex-boyfriend Wayne (Sam Rockwell) shows up, the emergence of a comely wild child (Isabelle McNally) at the house bound to divert attention away from the duo’s magnum opus, and what writing they actually are able to accomplish on the script, a hitmen thriller which at one point is pitched as “Umbrellas of Cherbourg meets noir.” Yet just as the mere fact that “Loitering with Intent” now exists in the world serves as proof Martin and Godere were able to write a happy ending for themselves in real life, it only happened because it came at an ideal moment.
“I had a perfect sweet spot in my schedule,” says the film’s director Adam Rapp, who admits to being “a little scared” in working with someone else’s material after directing his own scripts for “Winter Passing” and “Blackbird” for his first two films. However, while waiting on adapting his play “Red Light Winter” for his third, an ambitious undertaking that’s been in the works for years, the producers of that project suggested he take a look at Martin and Godere’s script, which had attracted a considerable array of talent given the relationships they forged while working in the trenches of the New York theater scene. The end result is unusually light on its feet for something Rapp has worked on, yet his fingerprints can be seen everywhere, whether it’s in the naturalism of the performances or the idea of getting away from one place only to discover geographical relocation rarely is the path to fulfillment. Shortly before the film is released after premiering last year at the Tribeca Film Festival, Rapp spoke about trying several new things with “Loitering With Intent,” the creative and literal wrestling matches on set and the benefit of having a cast that knows each other before production starts.
It was a different kind of challenge. I’m such a control freak and I would normally shy away from something that was prepackaged, but I just wanted to be open-minded. I was really excited about working with the ensemble, and ultimately, it was actually really freeing to have something that wasn’t my script and wasn’t necessarily my cast. It made me work muscles I hadn’t worked before and discover actors I hadn’t known before, so it got me out of my comfort zone. In retrospect, it was a great thing for me to do. When I was going through it, it was a little scary and I was a little unsure, especially at first, but a lot of trust happened really quickly and good creative friendships were developed.
Comedy is also something you haven’t done before as a filmmaker.
Yeah, that was totally new. Michael and Ivan scripted something pretty pristinely, then when we started rehearsing stuff, we found some looseness with it and gave ourselves that freedom. On set, we would always shoot the script, then there would be a take or two where we would open things up and play with the language a little bit. That was actually really fun because in the editing process there’s a kind of aliveness in those moments, so that was fun to explore. The next time I work on one of my own things, I’ll probably embrace that idea a little more.
Even though your main characters do their best to avoid actually working on their script, was doing something about the creative process and all its frustrations something that piqued your interest?
Yeah, it is. There have been a lot of films that dive into and lean into the tropes of the creative process and two people trying to write something or one person trying to write something, like “Barton Fink” or “Withnail & I,” which is two friends going to the countryside and [there’s] this tension between the city and the country and I was really drawn to that because I know those distractions well. I spend most of my life trying to minimize them so I can focus and write and try to envision things, but the real true thing that drew me was this bait and switch in that ultimately, [“Loitering with Intent”] is a film about trust and friendships — how we hurt each other, how we try to maintain these relationships in the face of adversity, and how brothers and sisters and lovers and best friends have to navigate all that and also be creative as well as eeking out some kind of career. That was the real selling point for me was that ultimately it was about people in rooms who are either disappointed or in love. There’s also a great unrequited feeling in the film, that I love about it, whether it’s Raphael’s affections for Gigi or Sam Rockwell’s character [Wayne’s] affections for Gigi and then [having] those two characters trying to get the relationship back on track. That was all a lot of fun.
From what I’ve read, the primary selling point for much of the cast was that the production was going to be fun and certainly, that comes across, but is it a challenge to convey that feeling without it being muddled in translation?
Yeah, that’s why in terms of blocking and the mechanics of every scene, I wanted to make sure that we got everything that was intended and scripted first, then when we got good versions of those takes, we played. In the wrong hands with lesser actors or a set that’s running amok or a crew that’s not focused, it can be a disease. Fortunately, everybody was so well prepared that it was easy for them to take risks and have fun, and pull it back if we needed to. It’s funny, the one scene where Michael’s character Dominic has his first conversation at the white truck with Devin, Brian Geraghty’s character, and Devin is telling him about how he just haplessly landed this reality show pilot, there was endless stuff in that scene [because] Brian just had such an incredible ability to ad lib and Michael does such a good job of reacting to all that as well. We probably have five more minutes of material that was hilarious that the scene just could have gone on and on. But then I had to ultimately kill our darlings and get it down to what was essential.
In some cases, we almost did it too much and we were spoiled with too much of it and I had to make tough decisions. In other cases, like a situation where Sam Rockwell’s snapping at somebody’s crotch or we’re having fun in those kind of smaller ways, I thought really worked for the film.
There’s a particularly crazy scene where Michael and Marisa’s characters wrestle each other over car keys on the ground. Was that tricky to choreograph and shoot?
It’s never that difficult when you have two actors who are just game. To Marisa’s credit, we were supposed to shoot that scene on the grass because it would have been easier, but it had rained and we couldn’t ruin her costume because she was wearing some silk. So we decided to move it onto the porch. We found our angle and our shot, but the whole challenge was that it’s on wooden floor boards, so I spoke to them and we did some fight choreography, but the whole trick of making a scene like that is to make it look ragged and have a lot of molecular energy in it, so we did throw a pad down at one point before they fall to the deck, but Michael and Marisa, who are really close in real life and trust each other, just threw themselves into it. They didn’t have any fear.
Marisa is an incredibly physically gifted actor. If you give her the right dance floor and she knows what her parameters are, she can do incredible things. I was amazed at her physical abilities all throughout the process. That scene in particular was really fun to shoot. Again, we had so many different variations of the fight that it was a challenge to choose the best [in the editing room], but it was a real pleasure to shoot and one of my favorite scenes in the movie, actually. Nobody got hurt, weirdly enough, and I think Michael and Marisa had a lot of fun doing it.
You mention trust between the actors, many of whom knew each other well before making this film. Did they bring their own chemistry to this or was there something you ever felt compelled to bring out of them?
That was the easiest part for me because there was so much prehistory with these guys, especially Ivan, Michael, Marisa, Sam, and even Brian and Natasha Lyonne. They all are so close in real life that the only thing that was challenging in that regard was sometimes they would get on each other’s nerves and I would have to do a little refereeing here and there. But that was only because they had a comfort level where they could be [openly] frustrated with each other. Michael and Ivan had been working on the script together and they’d worked together at a bar for years. They’re best friends in real life, so sometimes if their characters were getting into each other’s nervous systems in a way, but that was only a few times and naturally, I think that’s going to happen on any set where friends are working together.
It was interesting because Isabelle [McNally], who plays Ava, the outsider of the family, didn’t know anybody beforehand and I think she does such a beautiful job of embracing that singular self-possessed young woman who comes into the mix and gets in there and just holds her own with everybody. There wasn’t a deficit to any of those relationships. It only enriched what we were doing and made for a safe place to do difficult things, fun things and to be intimate with each other and to get angry with each other.
“Loitering With Intent” is now open in limited release and is available on VOD.