L.A.’s Life Artists

By
Photography Katie Fischer

Published February 3, 2015

PATRICK BRICE AT THE SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL IN PARK CITY UTAH, JANUARY, 2015. PHOTO BY KATIE FISCHER.

Patrick Brice insists that his ironic comedy The Overnight is actually very earnest. “The bottom line,” he says, wholesomely, “is that it’s about love.” Love between friends, love between spouses, his own love for L.A., and his love for all the most eccentric people who live there.

The movie follows two Seattle transplants in L.A., Alex and Emily (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling), through a long night at the home of their wealthy and worldly new friends Kurt and Charlotte (Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godrèche). Bookended by two equally intense but incredibly different sex scenes, the film is so full of sexual tension—and comedic release—that its emotionality comes as somewhat of a surprise. “A lot of it had to do with me wanting to take characters that would normally exist in a broader comedy,” Brice explains, “sometimes in a way where you feel like the filmmaker might be making fun of them, and treat them in a way that’s grounded in reality.”

Reality, though, in the corner of L.A. where Brice sets his story, is a surreal thing. The Overnight is a weird, warmhearted character study of its inhabitants through the eyes of confused newcomers who have issues of their own.

ZACK ETHEART: Was the screenplay as much fun to write as it seems it would be?

PATRICK BRICE: Oh my god. [laughs] Yeah, it was the best. And as I was writing it, once I got to the moment with Jason’s paintings, I was just like, “I don’t even know if this is going to make sense to people. I don’t know if people are gonna laugh at this, but I think it’s fucking great, and I’m just going to go with it and see what happens.” So the fact that people responded to the script and wanted to make the movie was the biggest validation for me. Any hesitation I had going into the production process was gone just by these people responding to this material, and in doing so, responding to me. I think there’s a lot of my personal energy, and my particular—I don’t know if it’s goofiness, or whatever—is in the script and in the finished movie.

ETHEART: When did Mark Duplass get involved as executive producer?

BRICE: We’d made this film Creep together. It’ll be released later this year; it premiered at South by Southwest. We’re best friends, and we met actually while I was still in film school—I went to CalArts in Los Angeles. He had just been mentoring me, coming out of film school, trying to figure out what we were going do, and so we made this movie Creep together, which is this improvisational movie that we had no crew for. We went out in the woods with a camera and an outline for a movie, both of us acting in it, and just made a kind of strange experiment that ended up having this festival life of its own and getting picked up, which is awesome. So in the time of waiting for that movie to come out, we were just trying to think about what the next right project would be, and he basically said, “If you want to write something that is small enough and makeable, I’d love to make another movie with you.” So it was just us wanting to work together again. He’s a crazy workaholic.

ETHEART: I swear he has a dozen projects premiering here.

BRICE: I know. He’s a nut.

ETHEART: So how did casting work?

BRICE: The first person who actually read the script was Judith, and I had happened to write a character for a sexy, 40-something French mom. She and Mark and been talking about doing something together already, so when it came time to start thinking about who we wanted, she was one of the first people who came up. We met her in a restaurant and she was just perfect. I wanted to cast as close as possible to how these people act in real life; I didn’t really want to have to push their performances at all, just to keep things feeling organic. And so she was great. She was the first big supporter of the project. After that, Naomi Scott came on board, and Adam [Naomi’s husband] was someone who we were thinking of already. We knew Naomi wanted to produce a smaller movie—this is her first feature, and she’s done a lot of great TV stuff before—and they read the script and loved it. So Taylor Schilling was next—we sent it over, we’d been looking at a lot of younger actresses and I was a big fan of her show. Then finally it was Jason.

ETHEART: How exactly did Jason get onboard? It’s hard to picture anybody else playing that character.

BRICE: Yeah, yeah. [laughs] He and Adam have the same agent, so his name was one that came up. And we were trying to cast someone that could be an enigma, I guess, and he is just that. He’s also kind of a chameleon, in a sense. There’s something about his presence in a movie, I don’t know what it is, it just makes you feel like you’re in an alternate reality or something.

ETHEART: How did you think up all of the bizarre neuroses and little biographical details that make up Jason and Judith’s characters?

BRICE: I don’t know, part of it is just that I live in Silver Lake in Los Angeles, which is considered a pretty hip neighborhood, and I walk my dog there every day and I see a lot of people that look like they’re almost dressed in a costume or something. I’ve met some kind of crazy people living in Los Angeles, and in my life, too. I used to be a personal assistant. I was in San Francisco, and I worked among the rich elite of San Francisco, so I’d meet some real characters—some real “life artists.” Who just seem to be living on another plane of reality. So it was wanting to just play with folks like that, story-wise.

ETHEART: What do you think the movie has to say about L.A.?

BRICE: I wanted to make fun of it, for sure, but also, it’s where I live and, outside of the town I grew up in, that’s the place where I feel most at home. I’ve met all of the of the collaborators that I work with in my adult life there. I think there’s a lot of crap there, but I think if you use discretion, it can be the best place in the world, because there is so much wonderful stuff there—culture-wise, food-wise, places to go. L.A .is… It’s got a short attention span and a short memory, and is totally down to bulldoze a beautiful building and put some ugly thing up, but at the same time it still has these amazing old places that you can visit and it feels almost like a walk back through time. And there’s a lot of goofballs there. It’s the Wild West. It’s the land of dreamers. I don’t know, I love it.

ETHEART: I found my sympathies really caught between Adam and Taylor’s two characters the whole night as they sort of become more openly hostile towards each other. Where do you want the audience empathize?

BRICE: I wanted it to go back and forth, for sure. In that last scene in the bathroom, where they’re kind of yelling at each other, and they’re both being bad and a little immature, but they’re also being honest at the same time—their ids are just coming out at each other. A huge consideration I had, especially with Taylor’s character, was making sure that she wasn’t going to be the shrill nag of a wife who keeps the guy from having fun. I wanted to show their relationship as one that was just rooted in love, even if they’re having trouble sexually and they’ve gone into this funk where they’re having sex in this weird way. They still love each other and care about each other. I feel like that comes through in the movie, and I’m so glad it does. A lot of times when you’re watching a broader comedy, they present you with a much easier problem that these people are going through: the man’s trying to have fun, his wife’s a “bitch,” whatever. [laughs]

For more from the Sundance Film Festival 2015, click here.