It shouldn’t come as a surprise that when Clea DuVall set about making her directorial debut, she decided upon an ensemble piece, allowing all of her actors a chance to steal the spotlight just as she’s done as an actress throughout the years in such films as “Girl, Interrupted” and TV shows such as “American Horror Story” and “Veep.” The surprise, instead, is reserved for Ruby and Peter (Cobie Smulders and Vincent Piazza) when they arrive for a weekend with friends in “The Intervention,” timed to their wedding anniversary, though given their marriage appears to be in tatters, it’s no occasion for celebration. In fact, one of their closest pals Annie (Melanie Lynskey), anxious about her own impending nuptials to Matt (Jason Ritter), takes it upon herself to rally the others, including Ruby’s sister Jessie (DuVall), Peter’s best friend Jack (Ben Schwartz) and their respective significant others Sarah (Natasha Lyonne) and Lola (Alia Shawkat), to suggest the couple do themselves a favor and divorce.
Awkward? Yes. But as DuVall’s expertly orchestrated chaos ensues, it becomes clear that the less trust the characters have in each other, the more there was amongst the cast to make “The Intervention” as wild as it becomes. Mixing raucous reactions to every new revelation with genuine circumspection, the comedy is continually tender in how it touches on the real concerns of a group wondering what the second acts of their lives will look like while bidding adieu to the first in explosive fashion. With an appropriately shapeshifting score by Tegan and Sara’s Sara Quin and sensitive, intuitive camerawork by Polly Morgan, “The Intervention” comes together so seamlessly that you might forget at times you’re watching everything fall apart and shortly before DuVall’s accomplished first feature hits theaters, she spoke about how she almost passed up the opportunity to get behind the camera because of her responsibilities in front of it and how her experience as an actress helped her as a director.
You’ve been wanting to direct for a while, so how did “The Intervention” become the one you wanted to make?
I really wanted to have the experience of directing a film. I love being on sets and working with film crews and with actors, but when I wrote this, I actually didn’t want to direct it because I wrote a part for myself and it just seemed like it would be too much to direct and act at the same time. I wrote the first draft of the script in summer of 2012 and started trying to get it produced a year-and-a-half ago and as I had conversations with people about potentially directing, I had this experience where I took on more than actors normally take on and I was able to do it. I wasn’t overwhelmed by it and that gave me the confidence to direct it.
How did you conceive this group of characters? Since some of these actors are your friends, did you write with them in mind?
All of the characters my friends are playing are very different than who they are as people and very different from the roles they play as actors because I was really interested in the idea of having people playing roles that they didn’t normally play. It all started with Melanie’s character. I wrote the movie for her. She was the center and then it all went out from there. I knew I wanted a part and it felt very natural, developing the progression of the story and these characters together.
One of my favorite things about the film is how you use the camera’s gaze to convey the shifting perspectives of each of the characters.
We shot with two cameras handheld all the time because I wanted to get a lot of the reaction shots. I had a very, very talented DP [Polly Morgan] who moved so fast and worked her ass off and every day we didn’t have enough time – we had too many pages to shoot and somehow we managed to do it, but I wanted to tell a lot of the story and reveal what I could about the relationships through the people who weren’t talking and their reaction to what was happening. It was definitely a conscious choice to allow everybody to inhabit the characters and exist and tell the story through their behavior.
This is likely a false equivalency, but is it interesting to tell a story about the importance of direct communication as you’re picking up how to do that as a director?
Yeah! [laughs] I’m really fascinated by human beings and relationships and behavior. The characters were very real to me and very alive. Everyone had a backstory – I knew them so well and I knew their relationships, so I felt very comfortable and very safe with these characters and I could move forward into an area I was not as comfortable and familiar with.
The score by Sara Quin is lovely, and there are moments where some lyrics are mixed in. Did you talk at all about that or did Sara go off and do her own thing?
We had a lot of conversations beforehand, but we were both new at this, so neither of us had a language to communicate in. It was certainly very challenging, but she’s such an incredible musician and I really wanted to have the score be something that was nontraditional. I really love Sara’s music and I wanted to see what she would bring to this and she did an amazing job.
Did you know about the house you shot in in advance?
I had been there one time many years before and it really stuck with me. I wrote the script to take place there in Savannah, but not knowing if we’d be able to use it. And we just really lucked out that it was available.
Was directing what you thought it would be?
Everything about it was new and yet spending 20 years on sets as an actor, I feel very comfortable there – with the pace and the fact that anything can happen at any moment and everything can change and you just have to go with that. I’ve seen so many first-time directors who don’t really have that kind of experience on set and they just freak out when things start to go wrong. The only thing you can know on a movie is that nothing is going to happen the way you expect it to, so if you’re okay with that and you’re rolling with the punches, you’ll be able to make the most of what you’re given.
“The Intervention” opens in theaters and will be available on VOD on August 26th.