Megan Griffiths on Seeing Another Side of Someone in “I’ll Show You Mine”

“I’ll Show You Mine” finds its lead Nic (Casey Thomas Brown) at an interesting standstill, unable to process exactly what’s happened to him or unwilling to at his particular age as he makes his way out of the modeling industry in which he was once a provocateur, flouting conventional gender norms and reaping attention both publicly and privately as this made him something of a pop culture phenomenon. He’s makes for an undeniably juicy subject, but also an elusive one as Priya (Poorna Jagannathan) comes to find out, thinking that she’s landed a major get when Nic is actually her nephew by marriage and she’s one of the only people who could get him on the record these days for an article she’s writing, yet not exactly cooperative when the openness with which he talks about sexuality generally — and indeed, has made a career on — closes up considerably when discussing anything more personal.

It’s hard to separate Nic’s true candor from bravado for Priya over the course of a weekend in which the two are holed up together, trying to hash out a biography in which Nic has some incentive to participate when it could pull him back into the spotlight, but much is revealed nonetheless in Megan Griffiths’ latest film, working from a script by Tiffany Louquet, Elizabeth Searle and David Shields, where what the two decide to hide from one another, either out of caution or calculation, ends up leaves them exposed in ways they couldn’t expect. Broken up into chapters where the wildest of Nick’s sexual exploits are illustrated in mischievous animation, the true shedding of inhibitions happens as the film follows a lively conversation that moves seamlessly between fun and flirty and emotionally raw when Nic and Priya start to connect beyond the limits of their own experience, with initial chitchat based on the vague impressions they had of one another from family functions and a slight generational divide before getting to a deeper place where ideas of identity are no longer rooted in the culture around them but how they see each other as one person to another.

The sequestered home of Priya that at first looks like a protective cocoon for such a talk to occur starts to look like the whole world in “I’ll Show You Mine” when the two start to reflect on all their past relationships, with Nic having lived so much life to speak of in spite of his youth that the older Priya can only consider in terms she’s learned of through a hobbyist’s understanding of clinical psychology, though what initially seems like a barrier becomes an opportunity to fill in the gaps. When Griffiths has typically tucked into corners of the world that don’t usually get the spotlight to find drama in such films as “Eden” and “Sadie,” it’s no surprise that she’s just as adept in locating them in the exchange between Nic and Priya, emerging with a deeply compassionate portrait of people who overcome so much to let themselves to express what they really feel to one another, looking more childish as they’re holding onto views that have been hard-wired over time when the mature thing to do is simply engage with each other in the moment.

Capturing it on camera couldn’t have been easy, particularly during a shoot that was one of the first to go into production after the world was emerging from the lockdown stage of the pandemic, but as Griffiths explained how she was able to create a safe environment as “I’ll Show You Mine” makes its way to select theaters and VOD this week, embracing the confines of a production limited by the circumstances presented by the pandemic and benefitting from the generosity of the actors involved to open themselves up to such a vulnerable scenario.

How did this come about?

As we were in lockdown in the early days of the pandemic, I was of course itching to be making things because I don’t really sit still very well, so I was trying to figure out what I could focus my attention on, a project that felt a bit more contained and maybe doable under all the restrictions we were facing. I had worked on a project years before with Lacey [Leavitt] and Mel [Eslyn], who produced, and two of these writers David Shields and Tiffany Louquet, so we went back to them to see if that was something that was available because it was a contained project. It had been optioned by someone else, but they had a new script called “I’ll Show You Mine,” which they’d co-written with Elizabeth Searle, and I just was completely entranced by it. It dealt with all these topics that I was so interested in and stuff I wanted to learn more about, so I was really excited by it and immediately reached back out to Lacey to see if she would want to work on it as a producer and then we sent it to Mel and she was really excited about it, so that part came together really quickly and then we found our amazing actors and got to work.

Was it exciting to develop something like this again? I know you had taken a bit of a break from features.

That’s true, because after I made “Sadie,” I just felt like I really wanted to focus on TV and build my resume, and I had gotten the opportunity to direct “Room 104” for the Duplass Brothers. It was so hard to even get my first step into TV that I wanted to make sure I was establishing myself there. And I love TV but there’s just something about making features that is just part of my soul, so I started developing this and then “Year of the Fox” – that script came to me during that lockdown period too, and little did I think that both would go so close together because that’s usually not how it happens, but we spent so much concentrated time developing during the lockdown part of the pandemic that as soon as vaccines were released, everybody was ready to go.

Because you had directed “Room 104,” was the idea of a single setting exciting or intimidating? Of course it can be both.

Definitely both. “Room 104” was really fun that way because I did two episodes and they were so different from each other. One of them was about female mixed martial arts fighters who had a brawl in the room, and the other was about Mormon missionaries who had a revelation about their own lives, so it was like drama and action all within this very beige set and I knew that there’s just so much that can come in with just the characters that you’re dealing with and the actors who bring them to life. I was calmed by that, but also it is a feature, [which is] a long time to be in one space. We tried to utilize different parts of the house and the outside world, but essentially you are strapping in for a long conversation and for me it was an interesting enough conversation that it was worth the journey.

How did Poorna and Casey get on board?

Poorna had been in an episode of “Room 104,” so she was already in the Duplass world and I was a fan of hers. When her name came up, we were like, “yes!” The thing I love about her for the character of Priya is that she just has an aura of confidence and intellect and certainty that I thought was really great for this character. Then Casey was referred by someone who Mel Eslyn knew, who read the script and said, “Casey is Nici,” and when I met him, I loved him because he’s just a lovely person, he also had all this lived personal experience that I knew would feed the character and make it more interesting. In prep, we had time to do all these sessions together where Casey, Poorna and I would get on Zoom and just read through parts of the script and have discussions that related to what the characters were talking about, finding new morsels that we could add in and places where like it didn’t feel like maybe we went far enough in the script and we wanted to take it further. It was such a discovery process because they were both really also so interested in the themes.

Was there anything that really changed your ideas about this or took it in a direction you didn’t expect?

Research is always a part of filmmaking for me, but I really wanted to make sure I was honoring these very tricky subjects, and I wrote about the research for a Talkhouse piece I just did because that was such a big part of this film for me. I learned a lot about reliving trauma – and BDSM. [laughs] I learned a lot about pansexuality. And there was a conversation that the actors and I had in one of our prep Zoom sessions that ultimately made its way into the movie because I just was so interested in it. Casey is pansexual as his character is, and Poorna comes from a background where it’s hard to compute like what that means and what that is, so having him try to explain it to her and have her try to really grasp it was fun to watch on that initial Zoom call, so I was like, “let’s try to put this conversation in [the film].” We would have little mile markers like that in the script where when we’d be doing a big, long scene [where] we’re like, “Here’s a place where if you guys just want to talk about this subject a little bit and take it out on a tangent, I can always cut it out if it doesn’t work,” so we could discover some new and fun things in the moment that are surprising and new. One of those moments was just them having that conversation about his pansexuality and her just really, really trying to get it and not quite getting there.

It could get uncomfortable real fast in a way that wouldn’t be great, but you’ve got the animated interstitials that end up doing a lot of heavy lifting because you can have that frank, sexual conversation without having to make it weird. Was that something you could lean on from the start?

Yeah, the interstitials, the comic panels and also the animation were both scripted, and we found some new ones as we went, but the idea of them was always there. And the comics are so irreverent, the only actual nudity in the movie is in these comics, but they go to raucous places with such a light touch of humor that I thought they were great. We found an artist in Glasgow, Scotland who did all those, Jem Milton — I haven’t met them in person – that was a completely virtual conversation. But that was one element where it always gave a little breath between some of these heavier conversations and lift it up in a way of just allowing the audience a moment of surfacing and then plunging back deep. The animations were [also] a way to really talk about how people remember trauma and the emotional replaying of events that isn’t necessarily like this fact-by-fact replay, but just this feeling and these tones of darkness, so it was something that I wanted to bring into the movie and I thought the animator Neely Goniodsky was really good at representing emotion visually.

I heard it was seven days for this shoot, which just seems wild for anything. What it was like being on set for this?

We figured we could do it in a shorter period of time, but the heavy lifting in that is for the actors, because they had to come in and do anywhere from 12 to 17 pages a day and they’re the only two people talking, so it’s not divided up amongst 10 people and they just have to remember a few lines. They really have to drive it and be engaged and keep listening to each other, even though we’re doing it again and again, and then they’re finding new spaces to lean in and react. So it was daunting for me, but I can’t complain. And we definitely wanted to be able to let them go and give them space. It was very influenced by my experiences on Lynn Shelton sets because it would always be like, “Here are your parameters, this is the part of the room you can use, so they don’t feel stuck, but they can move and have some energy in the scene.

You alluded to everybody raring to go once the vaccines came in. What was the energy like of just getting back to work on something together?

It was good, but there was also a level of caution to it. Luckily, there were no COVID scares and any pictures of me on set, I’ve got the mask and the [face] shield on and everyone on set was decked out in the PPE. It’s really hard for actors to be directed through all of that because they’re going off of my expression, and when I walk up and have a thought, it’s hard to just be fully covered up, so that was a tough element, as it was for so many productions that were happening. But it was really nice to be in a space together and it was such a good vibe on this set. It was just a group of people that, many of whom I’d worked with a lot and the people who I hadn’t worked with a lot Mel had worked with a lot, so it felt very curated and lovely and everyone was so respectful of what the actors were going through for some of these scenes. It just was a really beautiful, safe bubble.

Mel actually had pulled off a few pandemic productions before this too, right? Did that experience come in handy?

Yeah, this initially was going to be shot on Zoom. [Mark] Duplass had just done “Language Lessons,” [with Natalie Morales] which was a Zoom feature, and it had just come out a couple months before we were about to start shooting this and Mark was having this experience where he was talking to reporters or journalists who were like, “We love this movie, but if we have to watch another movie on Zoom, like we’re gonna shoot ourselves.” So he called me up and [asked] what do you think about doing it in person? And I [said], “I would love that,” and the actors were like thrilled because you can actually like interact in a real in-person way, so that was a piece of the puzzle that came together probably five weeks before we were going start shooting and it was just such a relief because it took the film to a whole different place.

What’s it like to start getting this out into the world?

I’m thrilled. I’m really in love with this film and I feel so proud of it. I think it’s such an interesting and relevant conversation for so many people who are dealing with their own traumas and trying to give themselves permission to let go of that shame, and I have been wanting to share it with people for so long. The actors are both so brilliant and [I love] the idea of more people getting to experience those performances, especially on the big screen — because we are playing theatrically in a few cities. I remember there’s a shot of Poorna where she’s having this dawning revelation at our premiere, and to be able to watch it on the big screen, my heart started racing. I was like, “This is so incredible, this work,” and to see it in that way was just awesome and I hope other people get to experience that.

“I’ll Show You Mine” opens on June 23rd in New York at the Cinema Village and in Los Angeles at the Cinelounge Sunset. It is also now available to rent on Apple TV, Amazon, and Vudu.

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