Some movies just come at a deeply needed moment. As an accused sexual predator is seated on the Supreme Court, a film about a victim of sexual assault has made its way into theaters. “All About Nina” was always going to be a movie that started a conversation. It’s just an interesting luck of the draw situation that it’s joining a part of a much larger conversation. Remove it from all of that and it’s still one of the best films of the year, as this rave here states. Add it to the current political climate and it becomes positively essential. As such, it was a pleasure to get to talk about it with the writer and director of “All About Nina,” Eva Vives.
It’s no secret that “All About Nina” is a highly praised movie here on the site, due in no small part to Vives. Vives’ work is a terrific directorial debut, one that should get her a lot of jobs going forward. She directs Mary Elizabeth Winstead (whom we recently interviewed here) to a career best performance. Vives also gets might fine work out of Common, making for a potent one two punch. The film is out now and is an absolute must see. You can thank us later. It isn’t an easy watch, but it’s an essential one, that’s for sure.
Here now is our chat with Eva Vives, the reason that “All About Nina” exists in the first place…
Eva Vives: Thanks for all your support on the film!
Joey Magidson / Awards Circuit: My pleasure. And congratulations again.
EV: Thank you.
JM: I’m curious, where did this idea come from? It’s so specifically and uniquely drawn. In part it’s about a professional life rising while a personal one is falling, but there’s also so much more to it.
EV: Well, I’ve made no secret that it’s very much my story. There are a lot of different things about it that I wanted to talk about. You’ve definitely touched on a lot of them. I’ve been a creative woman all my life, for better or for worse. So, yeah, I’ve had to grapple with the personal and the professional in that way, which often in creative professions is so intertwined. Comedians are a perfect example, how much they draw from their own life for material, which can get hairy, or incredibly interesting.
JM: Hairy for them, interesting for us.
EV: Right, but again, there’s that interesting line. For so many years, I felt like, if I had talked more openly in my professional life about my abuse that I would have been, not branded for it, but I think it scared people a lot, in a way that is much more acceptable now. So, for example, that scene towards the end with the Lorne Michaels character, played by Beau Bridges. It was only recently, I mean, I knew why I wanted to put that character in the scene there, but it was only while watching it again the other day that I realized that it really is about my fear of having been branded for that. So, anyway, that was one thing. Making her a comedian made sense. It afforded me that sense of control that comedians have on stage, which comedians do so well. She can say don’t fuck with me, I’m a comedian and I’m funny. Controlling everything, and then to see her fall apart in her personal life, which was similar enough to my life, and something that so many comedians do so well.
JM: I love how we leave Nina without having finished her story. Her life has changed, but she’s not set in stone in any one way yet. It’s a challenging place to leave an audience, which is one of the things I like about it.
EV: Good! I’m glad. I did feel both writing wise, and then when working with actors, so many times I wanted to do more. I don’t often think about television shows, but I do feel like I could it with this one. What if she goes home with the guy she makes out with in the closet, that doesn’t go anywhere in the film? Things like that. It would be interesting to see her in those realms, you know?
JM: It wasn’t your intent, but this movie did come out at a very specific moment in time.
JM: I’m curious, had it come out either six months earlier, or three months later, would you have explained more or less of the third act surprise? Ideally, would it have been more of a surprise?
EV: You mean waiting for her to talk about it?
JM: Yeah. Because it’s so related to what’s going on in the world, would have have rather it has been a shock or even more advertised as what you’re going to get when you buy a ticket?
EV: I don’t know. I remember when I wrote it, one of the things I wanted to show was, well, it’s twofold. One is how hard it can be for survivors to relay that information to a significant other. That’s one moment I wanted to show, and obviously she does it in the worst possible way. The other is the Rafe character, I mean, they happen to be a straight couple, but either way, the person hearing this, how do they deal with this? It’s never an easy thing, and in fact, a couple of nights ago at a Q&A there was an elderly gentleman who spoke up, that I found very moving. He said his wife had gone through something very similar and he had struggled with it, in terms of knowing how to help her, and specifically how her anger had been a real issue in their marriage. I hope the movie is for them too.
In terms of the question, you know, it’s strange. Mary and I talk about this a lot now, because we did this before Me Too happened. We were in this cocoon of creativity. I was able to just be very honest with her about my own experience. You know how very specific experiences can be universal? That’s what I wanted with this. If I’m honest about mine, then probably, even if people have never gone through this, they’ll get it. And now, since we made it, it’s exploded into thousands of people speaking about their own experiences, so it’s more charged. People are more aware. I don’t know. I don’t think I would have changed anything.
In terms of the distribution and how it’s being sold, I agree that I don’t think we needed to lead with saying that this is a Me Too movie or anything like that. But, there’s still a level of…I think it was being sold more as a comedy and I wondered how much, to your point, there’s still some fear around it. I try to put myself in the head of someone who is thinking about what to do with their Saturday night. With everything going on in the world, let’s go see the movie about the sexually abused comedian!
JM: Leaning too hard either way might have excluded people. Ultimately, it’s still really accessible, even if it’s not for everyone.
EV: Yeah! That’s the frustration to me right now. Certainly, a lot of the people who do see it, respond quite well to it. I do agree, it’s not for everyone. There are people who walk out, whether it’s because of the language or the attitude, you know?
JM: You can’t please everyone, and nor should you.
EV: Yeah, and that’s fine I certainly knew that, making this movie, that it wasn’t for everybody. That’s for sure.
JM: How do you cast a personal project like this?
EV: I was very lucky in the sense that I was pretty much left alone to make my own decisions, for better or for worse. I’ve thought about it a lot, since Mary and Common were both my first choices for those roles. It’s really unusual to then end up with both. I’ll come back to Mary in a second, but when I went to Common, nobody in the financing group thought he’d say yes. I didn’t know the guy and just figured it was worth a shot. I don’t know his taste. I thought, maybe he’ll love it? And he did! The other part of it is, and I did it with both of them, is that it’s really pending a meeting and an interview, to talk about the character and see if we see them the same way. If I had sat down with Nina and she had seen the character as very sad and weepy, then I wouldn’t have known how to help her get the performance that I needed. So much of it is if they’re reading it the same way that I am. With Mary, a lot of the conversation was about the rage in Nina, how much to let out at any point. It’s one of the things, I think Mary is a superb actress, and I know you agree with me, but one of the things she does so well is play all of those levels in any one scene. It’s so important too, because she’s hiding so much. Somebody who can really trap all of that is really important.
JM: I wanted to ask, when you see articles written about you, and you’re listed as a “female filmmaker,” obviously that’s a point of pride. But, in a perfect world, would you rather just be called a filmmaker?
EV: Oh absolutely. I mean, I’m alright with it now, only because of the moment we’re living in, so to not talk about it now would be hurtful in a different way. But, I find it ridiculous. All of the other questions that come along with that. For example, I get asked a lot if I thought about casting a comedian for this, and I was thinking about Scorsese and De Niro, since they were such big influences for Mary and I here. You know, did they get asked why he didn’t cast a boxer or a real taxi driver? They’re actors, it’s what they do. Often, and I can’t say for sure that that’s a female to male problem, but we do get asked it, or I get asked who are my favorite female filmmakers. There’s plenty of them, but are you asking men that too?
Also to your point, and I know you’ve written about this as well, the implication is somewhat that it takes away the problem. We have a line “it’s like we’re this new species and they suddenly found us.” We’ve been here for a long time Like, I know who Tamara Jenkins is, she’s been making movies for 20 fucking years! So many of us, we’ve been here. I’ve been writing, I’ve been trying to direct for a long time, and for some of us at least, we haven’t been able to direct for sexist reasons.
JM: That’s true, and for Jenkins, the space between when she can get a movie off the ground…
EV: Or Kimberly Peirce. Or Kathryn Bigelow. Consistently a lot less.
JM: The world is just different. You make one movie with a decent budget that doesn’t play and you may never make another one again.
JM: Whereas Bryan Singer just got another job and I’m pretty sure he’s a sexual predator.
EV: Yeah! (Sigh)
JM: Do you have a next project lined up?
EV: I do. I have two that I’ve been writing. I’m primarily a writer, it’s something that I love doing, and have used for my sanity as well. That’s something I learned in the process of making this movie too. I missed writing so much! I didn’t have the time to do it. So, I finished, just before I came out here, a film. I mean, I don’t have anything set up yet, but one of these hopefully will do. It probably comes as no surprise that it’s a revenge film! (Laughs) Sort of a second step to this. It’s very different, much more of a genre film, but also with a female point of view. I think it’s going to be very cool and kickass. I like those types of films a lot. And then, the other one is in the “All About Eve” / “Sweet Smell of Success” world. More dealing with the power dynamics between women who are working with each other.