SXSW 2017 Interview | Stephanie Beatriz on ‘The Light of the Moon’ and 21st Century Relationships
As Detective Rosa Diaz on the hit sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine, actor Stephanie Beatriz brings an assertive and humorously intimidating character to audiences every week. It’s a distinct and effective comedic persona, but there’s more to Stephanie Beatriz than just one breakout character. She’s the co-host of the podcast Reality Bytes with her friend Courtney Kocak, and she brings that insight about human connections to her impressive new role in The Light of the Moon, a drama that premiered this weekend at SXSW 2017.
The Light of the Moon is a serious drama about the aftermath of rape, a topic that can be difficult for some audiences to handle. Fortunately, writer/director Jessica M. Thompson has a confident and realistic approach to her storytelling, letting Stephanie Beatriz and her co-star Michael Stahl-David play out every awkward, painful and loving moment between their characters. And the actors are up to the challenge.
I was excited to talk to Stephanie Beatriz at SXSW this weekend, and she immediately put me at ease in the lobby of the Driskill Hotel as we chatted about the serious themes of The Light of the Moon, the difficulties inherent to artistic relationships, and the ideas and philosophies that go into her podcast Reality Bytes. Oh yes, and also her fantasy league for the ABC reality series The Bachelor (because obviously).
Crave: A lot of people aren’t going to see The Light of the Moon for a while. Can you tell people what this movie is and how you got involved?
Stephanie Beatriz: Yeah. Jess, the director, likes to make movies about big subjects but that are sort of a small version of them, like a slice of life style. The movie is about this young woman who is roughly my age, professional, she lives in New York. She lives in Brooklyn. […] She’s got a great group of friends. She’s got a boyfriend that’s maybe questionable, maybe not the perfect guy for her, but they’re really trying to make it work. And one night she’s out with her friends drinking, as many of us do, and she’s walking home, two blocks away from her apartment, and she’s violently raped. She’s attacked and raped.
And the movie is more about, who do you get to be after that happens to you? Who are you to yourself? Who are you to your friends? The world wants to just label you “rape victim” and be done with it, and this movie is much about there’s a lot of people… if you look around us in the lobby and if we asked, and if people were forthcoming, there would be quite a few survivors of sexual assault around us right now. So they’re real people. They’re not just “rape survivors.” They’re something else. The movie is mostly about that question. Who do you get to be? Who does the the world want you to be and who does the world allow you to be after something like this happens to you, and how do you decide to move forward through the journey of that [having] happened.
One thing I really admired about the movie is I feel like a lot of people, when they tackle this subject, particularly in cinema, they have a tendency to add certain genre elements.
“Rape and Revenge” is a genre.
Oh, it’s a total genre, and it can be very satisfying but the reality is it’s not the case.
It’s refreshing to see just, here are the conversations you have with your friends, your family, your loved ones, and there are a lot of extended scenes with just you and your boyfriend that’s just playing out every awkward moment that I feel other movies would cut out.
Jump cut, yeah.
Can you tell me about filming some of those moments?
Sure, we actually shot most of the Bonnie and Matt scenes, between myself and Michael Stahl-David, we shot the within the span of about two weeks. We were kind of… not trapped, but the whole team was sort of condensed into this apartment, Bonnie and Matt’s apartment, where we were shooting, and we actually rehearsed with Jess a week beforehand and we did a bunch of trust exercises, like… did you ever read that article in the New York Times, “36 Questions to Fall in Love”?
No, I haven’t…
So there was a study done that developed these 36 question that anybody can ask each other, and it’s sort of a leading toward intimacy questionnaire. So it starts out like, “Who would you want to have at dinner? You can invite anyone in the world to dinner, living or dead.” Like, it ends with these really intimate questions about life and yourself. Michael and I answered a bunch of them together, so it was like a super fast forward version of getting to know each other, really, really well.
Then we just fell into a major, I would say, artist’s love affair with each other. We really loved each other a lot during that process. We trusted each other a lot. He taught me a lot about myself as an artist and as a human being, really. I didn’t used to want to have kids and then there was this moment where Michael and I were having lunch on the roof of the building where we were shooting, and he looked at me, just looked at me in the eyes and he was like, “You would make a great mom. You would be a GREAT mom. You are so loving and caring.” And I thought, like, “Oh shit, is this the reason that I met this person, so I could have this thought come into my head?” You know?
So now you want to have kids?
Yeah, now I’m fully like, yeah, I could totally be a mom. I trust myself now to do it in a way that I didn’t before. Before shooting the movie, before meeting Michael, before meeting Jess. I had a really difficult childhood and I just didn’t think that I would be able to handle it, you know? In a healthy way.
I worry about that too. It’s a constant struggle. It’s a lot of responsibility.
And you can never take a break.
And yet we are surrounded by people… I guess people manage to make it work.
People do it all the time.
I don’t know how!
I feel like we would probably be really, really good at it. That’s the thing. I mean, you seem like a caring, nice person.
That’s nice, thank you!
Yeah, you do! Just meeting you for five minutes, but like, we could probably do it.
Yeah! I mean, not you and me. I’m married.
Right. I could do it with the person who’s in my future. But I don’t know, what I’m trying to say is there was an environment of trust that was there from the very, very beginning, from the beginning of rehearsing with him. And then Jess also just fosters this very creative, wonderful, open room in which you’re allowed to say what you feel comfortable with and what you’re not.
Even when we shot those sex scenes, Jess was adamant that – our director of photography was also a woman – Jess was adamant that the only people that were in the room were the people that were necessary to be in that room. And there was a shot, a crane shot, where the camera is above our heads, and to rig it we were on such a low budget that we needed a couple more hands in the room. I trusted everyone so much on that set that I immediately was like, “Yeah, let the grips in here. I don’t care.” I feel comfortable creating this with them in the room because I know we’re all part of it together, and we all want to tell the story together.
You’re moving into an interesting phase of your career. You started a podcast about contemporary relationships, and this is a very harsh movie about relationships. Is that something that always fascinated you?
I think that that’s part of the reason I got into acting, was studying and watching and listening to other human beings. Like I said, I had a difficult childhood. It was pretty tumultuous. My parents are really in love now [but] there was a period of time where that was not the case. So for me, what happened as a child was I would retreat backwards and watch behavior, and be fascinated by what was going to set someone off, what the tone and the vibe in the room was, and how I needed to manage myself to so that I wouldn’t make any waves, piss anybody off…
I know that feeling.
You recognize that feeling?
Yeah, it’s maladaptive behavior. It works when you’re a kid but when you’re an adult and you need to be controlling the room…
Not so great! Not so great. But it can be actually a great way into acting because learning about how someone moves, what goes on in their face, when the tone of their voice changes, it’s all character study. So then I became obsessed as a kid with watching people and figuring out how two people were relating without even being… like, I would love to go to the mall when I was a kid and just sit and watch people, because you could figure out so much just from body language, facial expression and tone. You couldn’t hear someone but you could tell what was going on with those two people from far away.
I think that’s what brought me into acting in the first place. Human relationships are so utterly fucking fascinating. It’s the core of all art, it really is. Like, how we relate to each other and how we’re unable to relate to each other is the core of all art and communication.
Is it possible to be too aware of that, in real life? Everyone’s like, “Get out of my head?!”
Absolutely, yeah, I think it’s totally possible. I think what can happen a lot of times with two actors in relationships – I’m not dating an actor now but I have in the past – is that you can become almost ultra sensitive to each other, because you are looking and watching each other all the time. I can’t speak for everyone but I can speak for myself, and that can sometimes be not the healthiest place for you to be your most creative.
And that’s actually probably what led us to starting the podcast, is that I was in this relationship that was particularly difficult with an actor, and I was talking to my podcast partner Courtney Kocak all the time about it, and she was like, “I bet other people are talking about this too. We should foster a bigger discussion.”
I was going to ask: what is the goal of Reality Bytes? Is it just to have the discussion, or is there an endgame where everybody is healed?
I think that literally the endgame is like, do you feel alone and stupid and crazy? You’re not. We also feel alone and stupid and crazy. Come join the club and talk to us about it because you’re not by yourself.
I love the set you have…
It looks like morning television on a local TV station.
Right? Except like on an acidy girl trip.
Was that by design?
It was by design. The set freakishly looks like my apartment. There’s a lot of the same colors in my apartment: a lot of pink, a lot of softness. We sent them a mood board designed by my sister, who is an artist as well, and I said, “You know me. What do you think I would like?” and she sent them all these images. Pink and softy and fluffy and girly. JASH just created this awesome set for us.
How do you go about getting your guests? Are they all people you know?
Some of them are friends of mine from show business. Melissa Fumero was our first guest, Joe Lo Truglio has been on the pod. But then other guests sort of just come to us, in a way. Courtney is also really, really great at researching. She’s a writer so she’s always thinking five steps ahead. She’s always constantly reading stuff and just thinking of, “Well, who else should we have? What conversations would be interesting to have?” We had Gaby Dunn on, who I had never met before, and I fucking love Gaby now. Like we’re friends, we’re buds, she went to my… I have a The Bachelor league, we have a brunch.
I was hearing you talk about that on the podcast. It’s like a fantasy league for The Bachelor?
It’s a fantasy league for The Bachelor.
I like that it’s involved.
Oh, it’s so involved.
Like, making out, you get points for it.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Making out, crying… if you have a full meltdown you get more points than a tear. It’s very great. But yeah, Gaby’s the best. […] There’s just a bunch of people that we’ve pulled in for the podcast that have subsequently become our friends. Like Witney Bell is a great example of an activist and an artist. She’s the one that did that really great installation about all the dick pics, do you remember this one?
Yeah, so she’s like a good friend now. I don’t know. There’s something about sitting in that place and talking about this shit that just automatically makes you feel like, “Oh, I trust you now.” It’s nice.
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Top Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer-Getty Images for SXSW
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.