A cinematic sparring match unlike any other in recent memory, “Some Velvet Morning” offers an unflinching glimpse into the lives of an alluring prostitute, Velvet (Alice Eve), and her domineering lover, Fred (Stanley Tucci). Over the course of 83 minutes, we eavesdrop on this toxic pair as they engage in an impassioned war of words – chatting, groping, yelling and sobbing, all within the confines of her upscale townhouse. Written and directed by Tony-nominated playwright Neil LaBute, this low-budget chamber piece has been flying under the radar since its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, but will surely blindside audiences this winter with nuanced performances and a certain shocking plot twist. Ahead of its Valley release at Harkins Shea 14 in Scottsdale this weekend, GetOut spoke with LaBute about the film, his French influences, and experience collaborating with Tucci and Eve.
Q: To begin with, could you tell me what might have inspired this story, and what you hoped to convey through this film and these characters?
A: Well mostly, I think the plan was to go on an emotional journey. Like most films, you want people to engage with your characters, be caught up in the story and go on that ride, but part of me had set aside this notion of, “What if and how long could you sustain that idea of taking people on a journey that ultimately didn’t exist?” Not that it didn’t exist for them, but that it was really under a different set of rules. And ultimately, they were in on it, and we the audience were the outsiders. While they wouldn’t know it, hopefully they would engage and think, “Oh, this is an interesting story and I’ve seen stories before about a man and a woman in this situation, but this is a new telling of that tale.”
Also, I didn’t want to just pull the rug out, but ask, “How could you realistically make that change in a short amount of time, really make it believable, make it work, and take the story in a completely different direction?” So part of it is like an experiment, and part of it is the same thing I set out to do every time, which is to engage the audience with character exploration and take them on a ride that hopefully – while they’ve been on it before – is unique.
Q: Could you tell me about the casting of Stanley and Alice? Did you write this with them specifically in mind, or how did they come aboard?
A: I didn’t, I actually very rarely write for people. Alice I had known from the stage first … When she came in, we sat and talked about the piece and the character, and she had such a good sense of who this girl was and overall, why a person like this would be in this situation. She talked really smartly and eloquently about it, and that was important, to have someone that got it and you felt really wanted to be there, but also someone whose work you knew already, and it was someone I could really create something interesting with.
With Stanley … the nice thing about him is that you find you get more than you paid for. In our case, we got much more than we paid for. You get a person who is a really gifted actor, but he’s also a director. He directs theater, he acts in theater, he directs films, he acts in them, so he has an understanding of the small and large side of what you’re doing. He had great ideas, really got the character, and had very specific desires for things that weren’t necessarily on the page or that weren’t big enough on the page for him, and we worked on making those things stand out. I think he brought all the qualities that I hoped a character like that would have. He’s kind of a difficult guy on the page and can seem quite distancing, but you’re hoping that an actor can warm them up.
I think (Stanley) is sexy and funny and sad and scary sometimes. I think that was very important to this character, he had to have a bit of a menace about him to keep this girl in the room, and he really bit into this part. I think he loved having this strong leading part and went for it completely. That’s when you’re lucky, when you have two actors that really want to play but also have a background in theater, because there’s just so much text that you’re asking them to do. We shot very quickly, and so it’s not like shooting a few pages on a much bigger studio film. It required them to work really hard all day long and then go home and learn a lot more before the next day. So we had to have people that weren’t just doing you a favor, but really wanted to be there.
Q: I’ve read that “The Soft Skin” and other French New Wave films inspired you while creating this piece. Can you tell me about any other films or plays that might have influenced you while working on this project?
A: Certainly “The Soft Skin.” In fact, we used some of the music (from it) in the opening credits. I think that (Ingmar) Bergman’s (TV series) “Scenes from a Marriage” was a big influence. There’s an (episode) called “The Illiterates,” that’s one of the chapters from it that’s all self-contained within an office for almost an hour, and that was certainly a big influence on me. I credit August Strindberg, because certainly a lot of his work about men and women were inspirations. He was one of the first to really play into the battle of the sexes in a modern way. The Swedes, basically, a lot of Swedish writers and directors were an influence. But in the end, you’re trying to do your own thing as well, so hopefully it feels fresh enough to be its own.
Q: This is already a pretty short film (clocking in at 83 minutes), but I understand that you cut about 20 pages from the script before shooting. What content was cut, and how did you go about trimming the fat and deciding what was necessary for this story?
A: It wasn’t just me, actually. We had three days of rehearsal, and we sat down for at least two of the three, and read the script through. Slowly, piece-by-piece, we became rather ruthless about what needed to go. We were a bit merciless, but you have to be. We knew that it was a piece that would be set at one location, with a couple of different floors to it, but essentially, one location. And we needed to keep the piece moving. So anything that felt reflective or not forward thinking or moving, we left by the wayside. Any time someone would stop to remember the past, we were pretty quick to cut it out. We tried to keep that simple drive and the simple needs of the characters – “I want to leave,” “I want to go somewhere,” and “I want to stop you” – as the paramount concerns. And in the end, I think we left about one monologue each, where Stanley talks about how much he loves this girl when he first met her, and she talks about how the relationship got destroyed because he couldn’t not control her.
Outside of that, we pretty much said, “Everything else needs to be about right now.” I have a pretty thick skin – I wouldn’t still be here today if I didn’t, between reviews and the world. You put your work out there, and people will say what they want to say about it. So you kind of have to sit down, in the beginning, and say, “Why let everybody else say it? Let’s do it right now and get it out of the way, and say everything that’s not great, goes.”
Q: To wrap things up, you’re currently working on another film starring Alice Eve and Matthew Broderick called “Dirty Weekend.” Anything you can share about that?
A: It’s just another experience not unlike this one, but it’s got a few more people in it and a few more locations, but again, a very controlled environment. It’s just two people, but not really a romantic story this time. It’s more of a road picture, really, although it’s a pretty short road they travel. It was another script that I had that was very manageable for making an independent film out of, and Alice was great to work with, and this character is quite different from Velvet, so she signed on. Matthew was someone I had only worked with from afar, actually. He did a reading of a play of mine that I didn’t get to see. So it’s something that’s a dissimilar experience (from “Some Velvet Morning”), but hopefully one that will reap the same benefits.
“Some Velvet Morning” opens this Friday, Dec. 13, at Harkins Shea 14 in Scottsdale. It is also available to watch on video-on-demand. For more information, visit http://tribecafilm.com/tribecafilm/filmguide/some-velvet-morning.