The new Drake Doremus movie was a late addition to Sundance. Given Doremus’s history of three films at the festival – Douchebag, Like Crazy, and Breathe In – it would hardly be Sundance without his latest. Newness stars Nicholas Hoult and Laia Costa as Martin and Gabi, who meet on a dating app (Winx, not Tinder) and fall in love. But their commitment issues make them decide to try an open relationship, which leads to more emotionally raw dramatic moments.
Doremus dedicated Newness to Anton Yelchin, his Like Crazy star who died in 2016. Newness was a very quick shoot, with a final cut locked three months after shooting began, and submitted to Sundance just before Christmas. Costa joined Doremus for an interview about the film at the festival. She previously starred in Victoria, the German film that unfolds in a single continuous take. Costa said she fell into acting, having been a basketball player before. She was working for an ad agency when she got an acting opportunity, and now her movie career is off and running.
cinemathread: I was very happy to see you dedicate the film to Anton. Was this by any chance something he was considering doing?
Drake Doremus: No, kind of the other way around actually. I kind of decided I wanted to make a film like this again because of him in a lot of ways. It was inspiring to think about doing something like this again, just really intimate, under the radar kind of thing, instead of doing something bigger. It felt like his spirit of film and how to do things was very much in line with what this is.
CT: Even with Ben York Jones’ script, is Newness still as improvisational as the others?
DD: There’s still a good amount of improv as always. The script is there as a guideline and his structure was really tight which is really helpful and why we were able to make it so fast. But then once we start to explore the heat and the emotional context, lots of improv always ensues.
CT: The fights Martin and Gabi have are so brutal. Was any of that improvised in the moment?
Laia Costa: [Drake] was with us and we were like, “Okay, let’s go through the scene.” He was telling us the emotional goals, what we need to achieve here. Then we were trying to see what happens. From that point, let’s see what we can improve from here or not.
DD: When you’re doing something as brutal as that, to constrict yourself to saying the exact words, especially in scenes like that, when it’s something so unhinged, is kind of tricky. There’s some really great improv especially in the third fight scene that I’m really proud of. It’s one of my favorite scenes in anything I’ve ever done.
CT: Is it challenging to find the right buttons to push when you’re improvising in character?
DD: I think the reason they were able to push each other’s buttons in the moment is because it was real in the moment. It never felt like it was a performance or acting as much as getting each other going. She could really push Nick and I think Nick’s performance is really magnificent in the movie in large part [due] to what Laia brings out of Nick in the movie and vice versa.
LC: We were checking on each other all the time, like, “Don’t bullshit me. Don’t bullshit me. You are not here.” We were like this all the time.
DD: It’s so true. Anytime something felt false, we’d call each other out on it. That’s why everything is so real and so honest. They would always be so brutal about it. They’d call each other on bullshit. Then when we’re in the pocket it’s just magic, and then when we’re out, we’re out. We shot three or four scenes two or three times just because sometimes it wouldn’t quite get there. We would explore it and then we’d be exhausted, but we’d have to revisit it because it just never quite was honest enough. It never felt like it achieved what it needed to achieve.
LC: That’s a good thing because when you work with a director, you want to make sure he wants truth. He doesn’t want bullshit. So he was like, “No, I just want truth” so we are like, “Don’t bullshit me, don’t bullshit me” but then he was like, “Don’t bullshit ME.”
DD: It was a very emotionally bare and physically bare movie. There’s nowhere to hide. It’s not like inside of a take, and these are long takes where you can just hide and get through a performance and have some weak spots. No, the whole thing has to be completely honest in the moment or else it completely falls apart.
CT: Was it draining to go to these raw, emotional places every day?
LC: It was draining because it was so fast. It was a very short shoot. The only thing I feel like I would love to have had is more time to enjoy it more. I remember one day Nick and I were so drained, we were talking that oh my God, we have this sex scene, we have this fight and after it we have this emotional scene the same day. We were just laughing with this kind of tiring laugh when you’re very drained. At the same time, it’s nice because it takes you to a place where you have to be real. I remember one scene, we were trying to not be as exhausted as we were. [Drake] was like, “No, play with the things you have right now. You’re exhausted, they are exhausted.” You play with the things you have right here right now.
“Certain things are just hard to share because they involve feelings. Once you actually bring the heart in, it’s not a desire thing or a physical thing. It’s an emotional thing. That’s when things start to get really tricky and lines get blurred.”
CT: The fights in Like Crazy are passive-aggressive. Are the fights in Newness more direct?
DD: Yeah, I think it’s just getting older. I think when I was younger, there’s more games being played in your 20s where in your late 20s/early 30s, you’re getting to the issues a little bit quicker maybe.
CT: If you were thinking about long distance relationships when you made Like Crazy, was there something recent that made you start thinking about open relationships?
DD: I’d just gotten out of a long relationship. Coming back into the climate and seeing what it is, trying to understand what dating is like today is a very eye-opening experience. It’s just changing so fast.
CT: Has your perspective changed since Like Crazy?
DD: I’m feeling more hopeful than ever. All my endings are always like, “These people are f***ed.” Maybe because I’m 33 and at a different place in my life, I’m feeling a lot more optimistic about the idea of if you want something enough and you fight for it enough, you can have it. You just have to fight for it.
CT: Winx swipes up and down instead of left or right. Was that your riff on Tinder?
DD: Maybe. I think we were just trying to do something a little different.
“…I’m feeling a lot more optimistic about the idea of if you want something enough and you fight for it enough, you can have it. You just have to fight for it.”
CT: Did you talk to people in open relationships? What are some things they shared that they struggle with?
DD: Yeah, we did a good amount of research. Ben has a friend who was in an open relationship. He spent a lot of time talking to him and trying to understand the ins and outs of how it works or doesn’t work. The thing he realized pretty quickly that he talked about was that honesty is the key to making that work. The minute that anybody hides anything, the whole thing kind of falls apart. It can sustain itself theoretically in certain situations. The key is honesty.
CT: Why do you think people would embark on this with the ideals of honesty and then still keep secrets?
DD: Certain things are just hard to share because they involve feelings. Once you actually bring the heart in, it’s not a desire thing or a physical thing. It’s an emotional thing. That’s when things start to get really tricky and lines get blurred.
CT: I must be different in that I don’t have a thing for newness. I tend to stick with things I love forever. Do you think that’s just a different mindset than the sort of people who always want something new?
LC: Oh my God, I think this generation, millennials, I have a lot of friends who have been trying open relationships or have been at least talking about sex. My parents don’t talk about sex as we do. I’m sure my grandsons will not talk about sex as we do. You have everything now in the mobile phone and it’s like a transaction. It’s for fun and it’s why not? This is something you cannot even imagine with your grandparents. I have a friend that his grandmother was not able to blow job her husband. She was like, “No, I don’t do this. He can go to a whore for a blow job, but I’m not going to blow job him.” That’s maybe 40 years ago. Our minds are changing so much. My sister lives in Denmark and she has a lot of friends with open relationships, successful open relationships. Now the discussion is: “Okay, so he’s my boyfriend and she’s my girlfriend and I want to have a kid. Of course I’m going to have a kid with him but she’s going to be a mom too. It’s going to be three parents having this kid.” So the discussion is wider and wider if you try to succeed in these kind of social experiences. I guess for my parents, it’s difficult but l think they understand Newness perfectly because even with people that have long term relationships, there are some scenes that go directly to your heart. When they are on the bed with their mobile phones, who has not done this? It talks about a lot of stuff there.
CT: Definitely this generation, but even when I was growing up there were people who always wanted the new thing. Are there just different mentalities that are more susceptible to outgrowing things?
DD: I think that’s it. You grew up with different patterns and different addictions. The idea that if you’re having problems in your relationship, you can just swipe and get rid of that and start something new that has no baggage, essentially because it’s easier, it’s something that is becoming more accustomed, something that is more normal, which is something that’s scary in a way. Because if we’re not dealing with our issues, what are we doing? The movie tackles that idea head on.
LC: But that’s great. Lucky you. I think there’s a whole generation, we’ve been told we are special and we can have anything we want just because we want it. We’ve been growing up like this and we go to the real world and you’re not that special. You cannot have anything you want just because you want it. But oh, we have social media. We have new technologies and I actually can have anything I want right here right now, even intercourse or relationships. If I’m not patient because long term relationships, you have to work hard on it, maybe you don’t want to do this.
DD: Well, there weren’t as many options 10, 15, 20 years ago. Now when there’s a bar on your phone and you can talk to anybody in that bar anytime you want, there are so many options, that temptation, that idea that there’s always something better, it creates a tremendous amount of longing in some people. That longing is something you can’t get rid of even when you find a deep connection with somebody. That longing just stays in you, even when you have something beautiful.
CT: Interestingly, again I don’t see all those options as temptation. Rather it points out none of these people interest me. It makes me even pickier.
DD: Totally, totally. I agree with that personally very much.
LC: It’s not just relationships. It’s also work. Before, people were working in the same company for 50 years. If your dad was doctor, you were a doctor and it’s a family of doctors. Nowadays people want to succeed and make an impact as soon as possible. Even successful careers, it takes time.