Unlike budding starlets who desperately try to keep their love lives under wraps, Zoe Lister-Jones invites your voyeurism. After initiating an open relationship with her boyfriend, director Daryl Wein, the duo went on to write, produce, and star in Breaking Upwards, a film re-enacting their experiment with polyamory. Issues of intimacy and autonomy abound–no surprise from 27-year-old Lister-Jones, who garnered critical acclaim for her 2004 one-woman show, “Codependence is a Four Letter Word,” and went on to score roles in Law and Order, State of Play, and the upcoming Salt (starring Angelina Jolie). Here, the Brooklyn native takes a seat to talk break-ups, the writing process, and why mom’s friends may just be onto something.
ARIELLA GOGOL: The film is about you breaking up with your real life and on-camera boyfriend. Was the action in real-time?
ZOE LISTER-JONES: Well, it’s funny–being open was a roundabout path to ultimate break up. But we actually got back together, and then made a movie about it. Which you’d think could also break us up, but nope–we’re together.
GOGOL: You said that the idea to make your experience a movie was actually Daryl’s. Were you immediately on board?
LISTER-JONES: At first, I thought I couldn’t do it. There was no distance! One night we’d be having a fight, the next day he’d be at the computer writing about it. But after a year of Daryl working on the script with our co-writer, Peter Duchan, I joined in–I needed to, for narcissistic reasons!
GOGOL: Did re-living it all on film stir up any anger or jealousy?
LISTER-JONES: I got more upset during the writing process. We would be writing scenes about that “somebody else”–and be wondering how much of it was true, and what we even wanted to know…
GOGOL: You wanted to open the relationship to combat your dependence on each other. Now that you’re in a once-again closed relationship, do you still feel co-dependent?
LISTER-JONES: I think every relationship has ebbs and flows of that kind of thing. It’s so hard, and I think that’s what’s cool about the movie. Because whether or not you’ve been in an open relationship, everyone has struggled with these kinds of questions–how to create space for oneself in a serious relationship. And we still keep the option open to see other people.
GOGOL: What made you want to open the relationship up and date other people, instead of just breaking up?
LISTER-JONES: My mom’s best friends are polyamorous, and they were an inspiration for the experiment. I think that lifestyle is so interesting… and terrifying. People are human, and they have human desires and needs–and how do you deal with that? I mean, most people deal with it by cheating. So I think it’s pretty brave to say to someone: “You know, I want to sleep with someone else right now.”
Breaking Upwards opens in IFC theaters on April 2.