INTERVIEW: Sarah Gadon, Logan Lerman, and James Schamus talk ‘Indignation’

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I’m a big fan of Indignation, the new film from filmmaker James Schamus, but there’s also a bit of a fascination on my part with how the period piece applies to my life. What I mean by that is two fold. On the one hand, my 83 year old grandfather was exactly the same age in 1951 as Logan Lerman‘s protagonist here is, so in some way this is a look inside of what his entry into adulthood might have been like. On the other hand, my college experience was so different in some ways (while also being somewhat similar in others) than Lerman’s Marcus that it just fascinated me. All that made me very excited to talk with Lerman and Schamus, along with Sarah Gadon in conjunction with the press tour for the movie. Indignation opens this Friday and is really terrific. My rave review can be found currently on the site, and be sure to check it out when the film opens.

Quickly before I get to what the three talented individuals had to say about Indignation, let me just put forward that they couldn’t have been lovelier people during the brief time that we got to speak. Schamus was who I spoke to first, and he was willing to talk inside baseball with me about what goes on in putting a movie out into the world, while Gadon and Lerman were both very eager to just shoot the breeze. In fact, an aside about my hometown that I mentioned to Lerman resulted in a great little story about being in the neighborhood where Requiem for a Dream was shot. That wasn’t recorded or anything, but just shows how nice and down to Earth he was, along with his genuine appreciation of my compliments about Stuck in Love, which I often feel like no one has seen but me. In short, they’re quality humans, with interesting things to say, even in a short time span, as you’ll find out right now.

Below you’ll see the highlights of my chats with Gadon, Lerman (both of whom were paired together for my sit down), and Schamus. Enjoy:

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Schamus

On what led him to make this project his directorial debut and why now/in this way

James Schamus – I just thought, look, if I had the option, which it seems I did, to, you know, come up with a project and explore a new challenge in directing…it’s true, it’s possible in an alternate history I could have set it up in a bigger way, but I had the luxury of also knowing what it’s like and knowing what the joys of the freedoms are that come with making something very inexpensively and below the radar. Being able to have that freedom to make work that’s a bit more challenging, you don’t have to worry about people looking over your shoulder, even if that’s you looking over your own shoulder! (Laughs) I could go for it! Let’s face facts, spoiler alert, we do put the knife in, you know?

Going a bit further with why keeping the budget down actually was a boon for him here

JS – Right right, exactly. There was that luxury of staying below the radar and just getting the band together in the garage. You get to play the songs that you want to play.

Talking about how this feels like a movie from another era in a way and the different way this will go out into the world

JS – It is harder and it isn’t (in response to this being something smaller today, but a generation ago would have been a clear cut prestige picture). They exist, but do they get circulation? No they don’t. That is the difference now. We’re in that weird space with this film. You know, we’re lucky, we did fly below radar. We did hit Sundance, where it went extremely well. My investors all have their money back, we have a wonderful distributor, and it doesn’t have to do huge business to be a very happy story for them. But, because of that, it’s doing enough business that it’s able to a part of the conversation in some way.

On the VOD trend and a bit on the behind the scenes aspect of putting a movie out into the world

JS – It’s such a different conversation, and I’d love to have it some other time, because opening the hood on these things now is so, and this is obviously my life, and I still do it with my little company, we actually sold our first film last night, though I can’t talk about it yet. The economics for these things these days may appear in one way, but each one is so damn different. For example, if you’re going out through the Amazon route, it’s so different, the economics and the calculations are so different from, let’s say this one, where we’re piecing it together through international pre-sales. And then there’s all these crazy, I’d call then “rhetorical” things, like when they say “we don’t care about the metrics because of blah blah blah”. (Shakes head) I’ve heard them before! But even back in the day, rewind six years ago and you look at Focus and say Searchlight for example, and they look like very similar companies, especially the visions and the high end artsy fartsy, etc. It’s such inside baseball! For example, Searchlight at the time, they, and I think they’ve since changed their internal economics, they had access to very powerful output TV deals overseas. Their economics were such that they could be much more theatrically driven in the states and not worry as much about whether or not films worked or didn’t overseas. At Focus, my economics were really determined by the pre-sale values overseas, spreading the risk, and overseas partnerships with independent distributors. So, if you look at the slates, and you look at the international and domestic box offices, the relationships between the two things, over the course of lets say half a dozen years at those two companies, you’ll find that for example Searchlight had some huge domestic successes, Little Miss Sunshine, etc. But then, the proportion of the box office overseas were much lower. We were hitting doubles and triples a lot, but overseas we were hitting home runs in key territories. So, they looked similar but they were two very different models.

Touching on the awards season

JS – Look, here’s the thing with awards, since I’ve been around this block so many times. When we started Focus, for example, one of the first things I did was date an Academy worthy film in March. Immediately, people said we were dumping it. We weren’t dumping it, but the fact of the matter is that great audiences for great movies don’t go into hibernation for eight months out of the year and they do show up. It’s only the self fulfilling prophecy of the studios all clumping together anything that they think are awards worthy into the last months of the year. There, they can’t get screenings, the media costs so much high, and there’s so many more movies competing for attention, and therefore only a small percentage of them will ever be able to leverage any of the awards stuff in anything that looks like a sane business model. Most of them will die. So, that was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which won an Academy Award. But, think about this. I always say this. I was sitting two rows behind Jim Cameron the night he watched his ex wife go up and take Best Picture for The Hurt Locker. When was that released? April. So, and then, I happened to be there, for whatever reason, when Jack Nicholson opened the envelope and said the award goes to Crash. Ok. Think about that. When was Crash released? May. So, I’m like, when people will argue with me about opening up a movie, I remember when we did Lost in Translation and opened it on September 8th, people were on us, saying we’re dumping the movie. Back then, early September was actually considered before the awards season! Are you kidding me? So, my point is this…I’m of course very happy with Roadside, these guys have released movies that grown up audiences want to see. Whether it’s Mr. Holmes, Mud, or Love & Mercy, awards are great, a blue ribbon is a wonderful thing, I’d love to have a blue ribbon, and I love the Academy, by the way, I’m a big fan of the Academy Awards. It’s fun! But you know what? Let’s just make good movies and get them to audiences first!

Responding to my compliment that this is an old fashioned piece of cinema

JS – I love the fact that you referenced that. One of the things when we were at Sundance, and luckily, the long lead press and reviews were overwhelmingly positive, but we had a couple of little dings where people called it old fashioned. I was like, I always take that in, but I love the fact that when you reference old fashioned, you went to the 60’s and 70’s, not the 50’s. There’s things that I’m doing that are really inspired by the work back then and the filmmakers, like insistence on frame and things like that, but it’s so true. I really, I just appreciate the reference. There are filmmakers andd films back then, who stylistically you might not relate to this, but I was really thinking a lot about. Something like The King of Marvin Gardens, for example. They’re out there and they’re really intense movies!


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Sarah Gadon and Logan Lerman

Discussing what drew them to the parts in this one

Logan Lerman – The script was great. It was really good. You want to take it away? (Directed at Sarah)

Sarah Gadon – Sure. I wanted to work with James. I knew that he was going to be making a film and I was, I just wanted to work with him. He could have been making anything and I would have signed up for it. Then I read the material and so much of kind of being a love interest in a film, often you have to take a look at the character and finding ways to bring identity to it, find ways to make it interesting and compelling, beyond this sort of cliched and obvious way. On the page Olivia is one of the most complex characters that I’ve ever read, and so it was exciting, and I knew it would be a challenge!

Talking about making his protagonist feel relatable to multiple generations, despite not always being likable

LL – Thank you again, very much. It’s a compliment. I really have to direct some of it to James and his adaptation, with the choices that he made as a filmmaker. The takes and cuts he decided upon in post production. That’s all him, you know? I just, I don’t know. (He’s also referencing the centerpiece sequence between him and Tracy Letts that I was gushing over)

SG – (Directed at Logan) But you did make the character so much more likable, I felt, than he was in the book

LL – Thank you!

SG – I really did feel that way.

LL – Thank you!

SG – When I was reading the book I really felt like the guy was on the spectrum! (Laughs)

LL – (Laughing) Yeah, and I think that on the page it’s like that. I think it all just depends on…it’s subjective. It just depends on the person. I think I, I didn’t want to play him as being unlikable, I just…since on the page he’s kind of an unlikable character in a way. I just wanted to bring truth to the situation, and I think if you take a magnifying glass and put it on a person…you can take the worst person in the history of humankind and I’m sure you can find something that will connect to as a human. That you’ll empathize with, to their specific plight. I think it’s much more interesting to make you care about someone that isn’t necessarily likable. To make you care about them.

On connecting us to the specific nature of the role, especially the repressed sexuality on display

LL – I feel like it’s so, yeah. I don’t know. That was a hard thing for me to wrap my mind around, as a young man. Knowing my own feelings and stuff like that. I just know that as a young man, you desire. You want. So, his confusion was hard for me to wrap my mind around, but understanding the time period, socially, sociopolitically, it would make a little more sense.

SG – One thing I loved so much was when you just ignored her in class after it happens. I just think, I mean, that could have happened today, you know? Something is wrong and you don’t say anything, you just pretend like it doesn’t exist. It’s a classic and youthful way of dealing with a decision. It’s so sad!

What preparation there is for a period piece, as opposed to a modern set film

LL – Those things are interesting. Those are choices, they’re just choices. They become clear the more you give yourself, the more you give your thought to the project. Those just become clear.

SG – Yeah. It’s very important. I love body language and how that plays on screen. Especially for women at that time, I think. The way you sat, there was a certain way you crossed your legs. All of those things were symbols of class and your upbringing, so they’re really important to the character. Then, of course, wearing a girdle and a bra that weighed like 25 pounds, a solid amount of wool, all of those things helped me. It’s kind of like constantly being uncomfortable! (Laughs)

LL – I remember you walking around in a cone shaped bra! (Laughs) It was hilarious.

Talking about what they’d like to do next with their careers, ideally

LL – Sarah’s going to be a great filmmaker and writer for sure, right?

SG – (Laughs) Yeah, I’m obviously really driven by filmmakers, that’s for sure. I was actually going to say that my hope is that I continue to have the opportunity to work with people that will push me, because that’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter what the role is, it doesn’t matter how many people saw it. If we’re just talking about the process, which is often all we have as actors, I just want to work with people that will continue to push me.

LL – My turn (Laughs)

SG – You’re like, “I want to be a superhero!” (Laughs)

LL – (Laughing) Oh man. As an actor, hmm. I love film, and I don’t know how this happened, how I ended up here. I mean, I know how, I know the timeline of my life (Laughs), but honestly I think I would have ended up in any medium that involves filmmaking. I really love all the mediums that are involved. But I would say I have a desire. As an actor, I love my job. Actually, it’s fulfilling, it’s not enjoyable. It’s like I’m a shade of a color of paint for a painter, you know? I’m blue for them, or Sarah’s yellow, and I’m a tint or a shade of that color that they get to manipulate or control for their piece. You know? I want to be the painter is what I’m saying, one day. I don’t want to always be the paint, if that makes any sense?. Does that make sense? Or does that sound stupid?

SG – No, I thought that was a beautiful allegory for what you were trying to say!

LL – That’s alright? Cool! Thank you. (Turns to me) She’s like “he’s a fucking moron dude” (Laughs) Ruined the movie! (Laughing)

There you have the best bits of my interviews with Gadon, Lerman, and Schamus. Don’t miss Indignation, in theaters tomorrow, as it’s something very special.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!