Exclusive Interview: Neil Labute on Some Girl(s) and Wicker Man 2

Neil LaBute and I sat in the outdoor lounge at the W Hotel in Hollywood just talking. It was like a Neil LaBute movie except we were nicer than his characters usually are. I should give him credit for pointing out the format of our conversation too, because I can’t be sure it would have dawned on me on my own. Maybe if I’d been verbally sparring with David Mamet or Aaron Sorkin. The subject of our talk was Some Girl(s), the latest movie adapted from a LaBute play. Adam Brody plays a man visiting his ex-girlfriends to discuss their breakups as he prepares to get married. Daisy von Scherler Mayer directed this one, which is now playing both in theaters and on VOD.


CraveOnline: Having followed all your movies about relationships, I’ve always wanted to ask you: Who is the woman who hurt you?

Neil LaBute: Does it have to be just one? None, really. Certainly not in the way that you go, “Oh gosh, you’ve been hurt and you must find a way to get back at them through your work or to make it better.” I’m much more of a storyteller, let’s make it up. From your teenage years on into being an adult, there’s always going to be love lost and unrequited love and all those things that make life interesting. But, posed with that question, I can’t actually answer it that there was somebody who hurt me in that way.


So are real relationships as influential as we may think when you’re writing about them in plays and movies?

Of course, I think they inform the work. My stories are so rarely informed with real life in terms of being “Oh, here’s my coming of age story or here’s my parents’ courtship.” When you’re an observer of human behavior and relationships and all those things, those things then are great fodder for you. They help make what’s on the page, even though it’s a lie, feel like the truth.

Everyone’s very adept these days at psychology. Everyone’s an amateur psychologist. They know what feels right and real and not. Even a generation ago, people talked less and less about psychology or it was the thing you didn’t talk about. “I’m not going to go to therapy because I’m not sick.” Certainly where I grew up, where if you don’t grow up in a city like New York, that may have been vogue for a long time since the ‘50s. Where I grew up, that was not as acceptable. It wasn’t even something you’d think about. Today, I think people are really very adept, audiences are, at smelling a lie, smelling that these beats don’t make sense for this character, that this psychology doesn’t hold up. So I have to be very good at creating characters, even though they’re fictional, that feel extremely real, like all that behavior makes sense for that character.

I’m sure that’s informed by my life and the lives of people around me, either ones that you see in passing or know more intimately. But, I’m not a documentarian. I’m not someone who pulls from life like some writers that I know. I stare at a blank page until I’ve gotten some people that I can write about.


Has anyone from your past ever come to you and said, “Um, is this me?”

No. Along the way people have said. My mom said a funny thing one time. She saw In the Company of Men. I grew up in a very blue-collar world, my father was a truck driver and I worked on a farm when I was young, so relatively removed from a lot of the more white-collar people I’ve written about. Certainly that movie was about two white-collar guys in a business world. My mom saw the movie and she said, “Wow, you really captured your father.” And it kind of stunned me. On the surface, it has nothing to do with my father but I think there was a certain spirit of a kind of man that she said, “Oh, that really is his.”

That kind of thing happens where I’m certainly not intentionally going “here’s the story of dad.” But someone else who looks at it, and maybe those are the people who can tell you, the people outside yourself who can say, “That’s accurate” or “You’ve used me in some way in your work.” I do think I’m, at least from the intentional side, not someone who does that, who is kind of vampiric or the way that writers are described at various points in Some Girl(s), as people who use the people around them. I don’t think that’s me.


Is his premise of rehashing these old relationships to move forward really a good idea?

I don’t know. I think people would argue various sides of that. If you’ve gone through something like AA there is that desire to go back and make amends to people and I think that’s kind of what he’s doing. The idea was I’m coming to make amends to the people who it seemed I influenced in that way. He says something like that, “who influenced me or that I feel like I made the mistakes and I want to go back and say, ‘Hey, are we okay?’ and right any wrongs.” But he really just sort of scratches the scabs off and opens wounds. Even with someone who didn’t really think she had wounds, he’s able to make her feel like “Oh, now I feel bad because I realize the extent of what you did.”

While the results may not be, in this particular case, for effect are not good because you want to create conflicts, you want to create a scenario where there’s room for these people to clash, the idea of going back and I want to try and rectify something that I’ve done, I think there’s good use in that idea. The idea of wanting to is dangerous because of what could happen, but the idea that this is how I feel and I’m now going to try and rectify some of that I think is not a bad notion.


It seems like movies are always afraid of extended scenes of two people talking. You hear the critique a lot “It feels like a play.” Why is that a dirty word? Why shouldn’t it feel that way?

I don’t know. Obviously, I’m one of the few people who don’t feel that as much, or just don’t mind. There are so many other kinds of films out there, and I guess that people take the idea of moving pictures very seriously, like you should always be on the move. Lots of films that I like, I think, are far more “stagey” than films that other people might consider their favorites. That still doesn’t mean that they were taken from stage material, but someone like Ozu or Rohmer or a film like Carnal Knowledge or a lot of the Woody Allen films. When you watch something like Manhattan it’s incredibly composed and really quite simple and so beautiful.

So I guess it’s just a matter of choice but to look back at films, like certainly a lot of films from the ‘30s, they felt like plays. Many of them were taken from plays but a lot of them just felt that way because the cameras were huge and cumbersome so they shot a lot of stuff in wider masters and people were talking. The size of the scripts must have been enormous in terms of how fast the dialogue was coming. It feels like there was a time where that was more accepted and it goes in and out of vogue. As soon as somebody does one well, everybody says, “Oh, that’s okay.” There was a lot of dialogue in Pulp Fiction. People were happy to hear it.


The ‘90s were a big time for that, the Richard Linklater movies and the Kevin Smith movies too. Linklater’s still doing them. Well, Tarantino is too.

Yeah, Soderbergh as well. People who saw Sex ,Lies and Videotape, that easily could have been on stage, but it felt profoundly like a film. I’m probably the wrong person to ask for that because I don’t mind that at all. Some people do have absolutely strong reactions to the idea that you would sit and listen to people talk while they’re on film.


Did Daisy do anything in the direction that surprised you?

Happily, not surprised so much as happily succeeded in keeping it alive. The trap of being in a single room is that you sometimes feel that need. She let things breathe in a very natural way of making things happen. I think lesser directors worry that they have to change things up to make it interesting whereas you and I have not moved at all.

We’re going to sit here and talk because that’s what people do. For some reason, if we were going to film this, I’d have to find a reason to go over and order another drink and then we’d bring in a waitress to mix it up, change camera positions. I think she was happily not afraid to let people talk and let it unfold in a natural way.

I think she’s really adept with actors. It was never anything that I was going to direct. They’d come to me and said they wanted to adapt it. There was a director just before that, who was also a woman. Daisy was not directing it at the beginning. So I always was aware that somebody else was going to take it over and I was excited for that. It’s good to have your material in somebody else’s hands. I hadn’t really done that film-wise. I’ve certainly done it on stage, but I had directed other people’s work and hadn’t really had other people direct my work. I was looking forward to that, to have somebody else say, “This is my take on that stuff.”


She did have them move around in the movie.

She did certainly. People don’t always just sit and talk.


I do, but that’s just me.

I tend to as well. I see it on stage as well. I’ve never seen anyone in my life stand on a couch but invariably in theater, not every play, but in so many plays someone manages to stand on a couch. Even a good production recently of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, somebody stands on the goddamn couch. Wow, always see it in the theater, never see it in life. It’s interesting, I guess, so therefore we’ll have someone do it but I’ve never seen anybody do it in life, other than a kid who is immediately told to get off the couch. I feel like it’s nice to be around a director who feels like they’ve got good material, good people and that’s enough, and will let the thing unfold like it should.