TIFF 2014 Interview: Lynn Shelton & Sam Rockwell on ‘Laggies’

Director Lynn Shelton has been rising through the ranks of the indie-comedy. Her first sensation was Humpday, about two men who are challenged to submit a sex tape to Seattle’s Hump! Fest. Her last film, Your Sister’s Sister starred Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt. And her newest stars three bonafide movie stars: Keira Knightley, Sam Rockwell and Chloe Grace Moretz. This new one is Laggies. And it’s unique because it takes that stunted adolescent storyline and shifts it from the “boys will be boys” bromance to a wayward, drifting woman (Knightley) who lies to her fiancee about going to a job placement retreat, when she’s actually crashing at a teenager’s house (Moretz) she recently bought beer for. 

Laggies debuted at Sundance 2014Now it’s at the Toronto International Film Festival. And it will be released in theaters on October 24. We spoke with Shelton and Rockwell about the film. And although Rockwell (who plays Moretz’s father) was rather shy and quiet in our interview, he is a definite standout supporting performance from the festival. He’s hilarious. And, for once, not a psycho.

CraveOnline: It’s really nice to get to speak with you because I lived in Olympia, Washington from 2008 to 2011 and I kept hearing about this exciting filmmaker up in Seattle, Lynn Shelton – actually I believe “badass female filmmaker” was used – and I had a couple friends that worked on your MTV show, “$5 Cover” …

Lynn Shelton: Aw, that’s really cool. But you moved away. Where are you now?

Los Angeles. But I love Seattle, always have, so I appreciate your continued use of a Seattle crew and film community. I’m wondering as you’ve begun working with more established Hollywood actors and producers, do you have to do more convincing to shoot in Seattle?

Lynn Shelton: You know, I really don’t. The thing is, I think everyone is used to traveling to shoot now because so many films are shot outside of New York and LA anyway. I love shooting in Seattle so much, that it’s a little infectious, and people love shoot in Seattle.

Sam Rockwell: I had a great time in Seattle, it’s really a cool town.

Well, I guess I was wondering moreso, because a lot of times when films and television are set in Seattle they will shoot in Vancouver, Canada because of the extra tax incentives. But I know you’ve worked with a similar crew for a few years there now, could you tell me a little bit about your team?

Lynn Shelton: My crew is fantastic [laughs]. It definitely has saved production. The original script was set in Orange County —

Sam Rockwell: Ugh … another one. Thank God. I think we’ve seen enough. With reality shows, too.

Lynn Shelton: But I loved the script and translated it to Washington. But to keep the spirit of it, I pushed it east of Lake Washington so it’d be more like our Orange County region up here. And so we also shot a little bit west, too, in the city but it was very understated. I suppose only local insiders will know the divide between the two communities, that dualism. For me it helps wrap my head around her division.

Sam Rockwell: I liked Seattle a lot. It’s so fucking cool. It reminds me of where I grew up in San Francisco.

Lynn Shelton: We do have a very robust incentive program here, too. And it really benefits the state. Some of the state programs don’t actually benefit the state, but Washington’s does. And I think I finally figured out how to make it work for people in California with Your Sister’s Sister because [by shooting] in Seattle, we didn’t have to house anyone because it was all a local crew. And then there’s a rebate for local hires. So it was actually double savings. And 99% of the people on the crew for Laggies was a local hire. So it worked great for me and it was great to get my crew the full set of all the bells and whistles on this movie.

Yeah and I guess Orcas Island replaces Catalina Island

Lynn Shelton: [laughs] That’s true.

You’ve written most of your recent films, but not this one. What appealed to you about Andrea Seigel’s script?

Lynn Shelton: In 2009 I was in Sundance for Humpday and suddenly I found myself with representation in Los Angeles. So I had a new agent and manager, and I was being sent a lot of scripts. So for years I read other people’s scripts. Many of them were well-written but I didn’t feel that I connected to very many. With Laggies the writing style made me feel like I could and should direct this one. So it was rare, but Andrea’s writing felt so real to me. And the humor felt organic because it was coming from a character-based place. So it wasn’t a contrived situation. And I loved the territory to see this character, a female, not really know what she’s doing. You get to see this with men, again and again and again, so I was excited to see how we could do it with a woman in this role. Anonymous Content had been developing this script for a few years with Andrea and I was the first director they brought it to and I felt honored and lucky and I immediately said “yes.”

Sam Rockwell: I saw Humpday and Your Sister’s Sister and I was really excited to work with [Lynn].

Was Humpday going on when you were filming?

Lynn Shelton: [laughs] No. Unfortunately not.

Sam Rockwell: Is there a festival for Humpday?

Or, sorry, I guess it’s called HUMP! It’s a bunch of screenings of people’s own home video sex tapes or pornos that they submit.

Sam Rockwell: Wow.

It’s been going on for more than a decade, I think…

Lynn Shelton: Since 2005.

Sam Rockwell: That’s so cool.

At the end of the “festival” Dan Savage burns all the tapes in front of the audience.

Sam Rockwell: That’s wild. I wish that was going on when we were there. [laughs] That’s so great.

So there’ve been a lot of stunted male bromances in recent years, but very, very rarely do we see movies with a stunted woman. Also it’s nice for her to have a friend that’s a young woman. And Laggies doesn’t say that she’s stunted or going to be left behind in her romance.

Lynn Shelton: That’s true. I think we’re in a nice period now where women are allowed to explore roles without having to be just a girlfriend or wife. You know and those were most of the parts that were the bulk of roles for several decades. The Graduate was the first disaffected person 20s movie that I can think of – I am sure there have been others and I might just be drawing a blank – but like you said there have been a lot of wonderful parts for men in this area. And so many movies where men are allowed to be fumbling their way through things or have flaws. And women were usually the impatient girlfriend or the aggrieved wife on the sidelines. I think for a very long time Hollywood did not want to have a woman be unlikable or flawed – which is the most appealing thing from a character – and you’re not going to get a Benjamin Braddock without flaws.

For decades, in comedy, we accept this phrase “boys will be boys” but there’s nothing similar for women because I guess girls just become women, or mothers.

Lynn Shelton: Exactly. There’s a romantic idea of what women should be and what a woman in love should look like, or even what female friendship should look like. And it was static for a long time.

Sam Rockwell: It’s refreshing. It’s a bromance between Keria and Chloe (Grace Moretz). Essentially I have what would normally be the girl part.

We are talking very serious subjects, but it is a funny film regardless of your gender…

Lynn Shelton: I’m glad.

And Sam Rockwell is hilarious…

Lynn Shelton: Oh my God, yes.

Sam Rockwell: Thanks a lot.

He’s very funny and Sam, you rarely get to be straight up funny without some sort of darkness or psychosis …

Lynn Shelton: [laughs] What I saw before this of Sam’s was Seven Psychopaths [laughs]. It was the quintessential Sam Rockwell role. There’s something dark about him and really intense. It was so nice to give him a role that I felt like I’d never seen him be before: handsome, charming, witty and smart and just a lighter side.

Sam Rockwell: I got to be a real adult character. Playing a parent, uh, [laughs] I had a really weird childhood. I went back and forth a lot and was raised by actors, so I guess it was unconventional.

Lynn Shelton: He starts out with this energy [as Craig]. In lesser hands his character would’ve been boring.

Right. Even just his introduction: he just opens a door and points, but there’s something about Sam and how he does that that makes him instantly likable …

Lynn Shelton: [laughs]

This is a stupid question, Sam, but there’s a running joke of finding your spirit animal on Orcas Island. What would your spirit animal be?

Sam Rockwell: A gorilla.

How’s that?

Sam Rockwell: I don’t know I just like them. They’re my favorite animal.

But let’s talk about Keira Knightley. She’s someone who’s usually cast in these period films and isn’t probably thought of for many comedy roles. But she’s great and very physical.

Lynn Shelton: Right. You think of her as this statuesque object of desire in Atonement and stuffed and bodiced in Jane Austen adaptations and Anna Karenina. But the first time we ever saw her, she was a soccer player in Bend it Like Beckham.

Sam Rockwell: Ah she’s so great.

Lynn Shelton: And you know, she was physically free and loose-limbed. Even in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, I remember being so struck by her and how confident she was in her 18 year-old skin it blew my mind. So I missed seeing that side of her and that’s what inspired me to cast her. She has a lot of charm and she is [laughs] a 17 year-old in a lot of ways. She rolls onto her parent’s couch, twirls the tax sign for her dad and uses a skateboard. I love the physicality of her and was so glad to put it to use.

Brian Formo is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel. You can follow him on Twitter at @BrianEmilFormo.