Jenée LaMarque makes her feature film directorial debut this week with The Pretty One; a screenplay that she also penned.
Zoe Kazan, Jake Johnson and Ron Livingston are all on board, and the movie has been playing well on the festival circuit.
We caught up with LaMarque to chat about the film, making the leap into feature film, and what lies ahead.
- The Pretty One is the new film, so can you tell me a little
bit about it?
It's a coming of age dark comedy about an identical twin who learns how to be herself through pretending to be her sister.
- You are in the director's chair as well as penned the screenplay where did this project start for you? And what inspired the story?
This project started as a screenplay that I didn't intend to direct (I had never directed before!). But quickly I became very emotionally invested in the story and could see the images, the feeling, the tone and I just knew that I needed to shepherd the story all the way through to the end.
The story was inspired by my best friend who died the same week that I graduated from college. He was a hilarious person, who had the most wicked dark sense of humor in the most bleak circumstances.
I felt that if I told this story about loss and coming of age, it had to be through a darkly comedic lens that reflects my personality and sense of humor while still being sincere.
- It is a great coming of age story, but it is also about identity and finding your identity. What was it about these themes that particularly interested you? How personal a story is it perhaps?
It's very personal to me. I started my twenties in a very vulnerable and unsure place and sort of brought myself up through a series of losses and challenges.
I became a mom at 27, and it really inspired me to believe in myself so that my daughter could do the same.
I think this story is very empowering for women and men who don't feel so great about themselves, it gives hope for a future where you can value yourself despite adversity.
- You kicked off your directing career in shorts with Spoonful and Happy Deathday, so how did you find the transition into feature film?
I think that making a short is a sprint, making a feature is a marathon. It's the same thing just sustained over a longer period where you have to make sure to pace yourself and bring yourself to the work in a fresh way every day.
I loved making the film, it felt like I was in a dream every day. It's such an honor to get to make a film! That being said, it was certainly more stressful and challenging than making my shorts. But that's just part of the deal.
- How did you find that your short prepared you for that transition?
It taught me a lot about communicating with actors and crew, and about the value of preparation and rehearsal.
It was a great experience making Spoonful because I got a lot of confidence from doing it. It was really exciting to get into Sundance with the first thing I ever directed.
- You have assembled a terrific cast as Jake Johnson, Zoe Kazan and Ron Livingston are all on board. Can you talk a bit about the casting process?
The cast was built around Zoe. That role was hard to cast and took about 6 months. When Zoe came in, it was like magic; all our problems were solved. She was our girl!
As for Jake, I had this dream that I wanted to cast him after I saw him in Ceremony. He was so incredible in that film, so hilarious, dark and real.
We offered the role to him and he accepted. Ron came on through our fantastic casting directors, Mary Vernieu and Lindsay Graham.
- Zoe Kazan is a terrific young actress how did you find working with her as she juggled these two very different characters?
She is an incredible collaborator. She really understood these two characters as two sides of the same coin: the part that feels fragile and unsure, and the part that feels bold, sexy and brave.
I felt the same way about them. So we really saw eye to eye. She's just so committed to the work and brings such intelligence, humor and joy to the process.
- Was there any specific research that you asked Zoe to do as she worked on understanding these two characters?
Yes, I asked her to read a book of first hand accounts of twinless twins (twins who lost their twin) to delve into that space of connection and loss.
I also asked her to watch this amazing, illuminating series of videos of twins by the artist Candice Breitz called Factum.
She put identical twins in the same outfit in the same place and asked them the same questions then did this split screen and spliced the interviews together. They reveal so much about the twin experience, and their process of finding identity.
- How did you find working with the cast? What did they bring to the table as you were developing these characters together?
I loved working with the cast. My favorite part is the ways they breathe life and their own perspective to the process. There were moments of improvisation that made me fall over laughing and took my breath away.
That's the fun of making a film, the collaboration and coming together of people with different artistic points of view.
- The movie has played on the festival circuit at the likes of Tribeca, so how have you found your festival experience?
We've had a very warm and supportive festival run. It's been so fun showing the film to a wider audience and getting to see how people react, when they laugh, or when they cry.
- How have you been finding the response to the film?
It's been awesome. I think we are getting great reviews, and it's really connecting to people.
Of course there are always people who just don't get it or it's just not for them, but on the whole it's been an overwhelmingly positive response.
- Finally, what's next for you?
I just had another baby, so I've been enjoying her so much. I am starting to write the next film I intend to direct and exploring other writing opportunities.
The Pretty One is out now.