SXSW Interview: My Blind Brother cast and director chat to us about the new comedy

Based on the short film of the same name, My Blind Brother is an uplifting comedy featuring raw, authentic characters played by some of comedy’s brightest actors.

Stars Zoe Kazan, Jenny Slate and Charlie Hewson and their wonderful director Sophie Goodhart sat down to talk with us about the characters, themes and process behind the film.

Sophie, I know this is your first feature and I was wondering, how was the process of getting the film made? Was it different from when you first did the short, as it was your first feature debut?

Sophie Goodhart: Well…The short was much less expensive [laughs], so I could kind of raise money by myself and I raised the money in 6 months and shot it. And also shooting on water when you’re a crew of 4 is really easy and when you’re a crew of 30, its fucking horrible you know. And suddenly having SAG and insurance and all of those good things suddenly make it more of a cumbersome, complicated task but in some ways getting bigger – it’s difficult to raise the money and then it’s a big machine. But it was an amazing experience and a big learning curve and I feel like it’s a very different thing, a different skill set and talent and I feel like I’m just right at the beginning and I have a huge amount to learn. But it was an amazing experience and the big thing is trying to get this perfect storm of money and talent and people that you want to work with and sometimes you get one element and the other bits don’t gel and it all slips away. What I kind of feel like the happiest thing about this film is that I got to work with these people who – I really think they’re good at what they do and they’re really intelligent and brought something different to the film. And I had a producer who was remarkably hands-off for a first time film maker.  He gave us the money and then sort of said “here, go and make it and here are some people you get to work with”, and that was amazing.

Sorry, I just totally rambled. [Laughs]

How long was that process? I mean it sounds like it was a while.

Sophie: I got Jenny, and Nick (Kroll) and Adam (Scott), I think in like January last year and then as soon as I got them, as soon as they said yes Talia (Tabin) was on board and then Zoe was on board after that. Then I knew Charlie prior – I knew him before and I knew I wanted to work with Charlie so Charlie was in my head when I was writing GT. But it wasn’t that long of a process, I mean it was a hugely long process of writing but some days I tend to write a gang of things at the same time because some days I feel more connected to one story or I write something and I think it’s brilliant and then I read it two weeks later and it’s not brilliant and it has to sit there for a bit longer. So it had been gestating for probably 5 years and sometimes I’d send it out and it wasn’t ready and then it all came together very, very quickly and that was because of the actors

Can you tell me a little bit about what attracted all three of you to the project?

Jenny Slate: Well, I do think I have some sort of…well, PTSD is the way wrong word [laughs] but doing TV acting and primarily comedy performances for so many years before I really got to to play a character of substance created a hunger in me that I don’t know will ever go away, and that’s fine, I hope it doesn’t. I really enjoyed working on TV and I really enjoyed doing stand up comedy but you know, I think a lot of the roles that are written for women in the comedy world are – they’re just not that interesting. Even if you have to put a lot of power behind them and you still have to use your whole skill set and comedic athleticism to make sure that they’re good and at least original and that can still touch you in an emotional way as a person and that is still not exactly enough. And also just personally because when I started acting, I didn’t know how to become an actress and I went through comedy because doing like the cattle calls or whatever made me feel scared and objectified and within such a male oriented system I don’t know how to do it without being completely degraded. I think it made me feel like, am I a real actress or am I just a comedy person and when will I get to show that? And that is really a formative experience for me coming into my career. So when I read the script and I was going to play somebody who was going to be funny and the object of these other characters affections but it wasn’t because shes perfect. It’s really because she’s in their life and she exists and has an entire personality, that to me was very exciting and I like that this character has so much shame and she has such strong needs and she feels embarrassed by her needs but she also wants them to be satisfied. Like her biggest fantasy is being given a present, she likes that, she wants that and she doesn’t want to feel bad about it but she also does and kind of enjoys the energy of how bad it feels. It’s all at once and when I read the script I thought it was very romantic and really smart and that I wouldn’t just be playing a little sweety. But I wanted to make her sweet in her way. There’s just so much to do and I want to be given things to do. I don’t want to be given something that’s already been done.
Mic drop. [laughs]

Do you have anything to add to that?

Zoe Kazan: To that!? [laughs]. Jenny asked me to come on to it and I read Sophie’s script and I thought it was wonderful and a real easy yes for me because I just wanted to go be with these people.

Charlie Hewson: It was an easy yes for me too. As Sophie said, she had been thinking of me for the role for a while, it was very easy to want to play. I try to always to find a way to see how any character is a part of me already, like not something that I have to fabricate and this guy is totally in me and I love him so much because he, like a lot of the blind people I met incidentally are ruthlessly – he is a ruthlessly positive person. He makes it his beeswax to be the happiest guy in the room and he’s not a one note happy guy but he just works his ass off at all times to be a positive person. And I’m so honoured to have an opportunity play a character like that because I try to do it in my  own life and it’s really, really hard and he does it better than I do, so yeah, I love him.

The thing that I thought was the most refreshing is that I love rom- coms but as we’ve said, most of the time women are relegated to the object of desire and the best friend and the thing I loved so much about this movie was that both of your roles were fully formed women and human beings and I could see myself in both them and I feel like that is a testament, obviously to your writing but was that what drew you? Your friendship probably helped affect how you interacted with each other.

Jenny: We didn’t know each other before! But we became very close. I mean we had met one time but we had like a beautiful afternoon. [Laughs] We were both on Bored to Death on HBO and I was leaving and Zoe was coming in –

Zoe: We had one day of overlap.

Jenny: Yes, one day, a table read and Zoe walked me back to 30 Rock, I was on SNL and we sat there and we talked and I went up inside the building and I didn’t see Zoe for many years and then we just became very, very close really quickly.

Zoe: My boyfriend gave Jenny my number. My boyfriend and Jenny did a video together and they hit it off and he was like “you would like my girlfriend” and then she texted me and said “do you want to come to Cleveland and live with me?” [laughs] and I was supposed to come do it but the hotel was haunted.  Then she was like “I have two extra bedrooms, come stay in my apartment”,  which was also an an ex civil was hospital so really I don’t know what wasn’t haunted.

Jenny: Everything is totally scary in Cleveland.

Zoe: Very scary. But you know what you were saying about full fleshed female characters? Yes it’s in the writing, absolutely but I think it’s in the perspective of what Sophie wants. The writing is like a baseline that Jenny and I both feel like we wouldn’t want to dip below but I think you could take that same writing and have a completely different interpretation of it and I think Sophie’s intention is the thing that was the most bracing and good on set,  is that her  intention was to put real people on screen but not just the women, all over the place, so that is helpful to know that the person who is helming has that desire.

You used the word shame before and the word that kept coming to my mind throughout the film was guilt and the different ways that we respond to guilt and that I think is universal but no matter how people in the film are responding you can say well that’s how I responded to that situation and that’s you beating yourself up and how that correlates into a real world scenario. I guess maybe we’ll talk about the script and what your response was to guilt and what part that plays in the film in your opinion

Sophie: Yeah I think shame and guilt are really central and I’m still trying to work out how much to let my own shame and guilt overpower me and it can feel like madness. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I have an overpowering crashing weight that I did something wrong but it’s just coming from somewhere fucked up, it’s not a real thing it’s like I have to talk myself off a shame ledge a lot of time and I used to and it’s something I used to have to really focus on and I also think the search for self and ego and being able to choose – making your own decisions is a great thing but at what cost of community and sense of love and giving and I think that balance is really difficult to manage and I want to be really conscious of it all the time – Sorry I’m floating again. But yeah I think it’s very central to the film and central to what I think about the world and I think each character is struggling with their own discovery of how to manage the guilt or shame or just give into it. You know, Robbie is painted as this kind of much more focused, arrogant – but he has it all in there too but he’s just displaying it in a slightly different way.

Zoe: Like part of his shame or guilt is he has to step on it in order to feel like he’s an ok person and that is part of his peacocking behaviour.

Sophie: And his abuse of his brother and the way that he keeps his voices out

For more information on My Blind Brother and remaining screenings at SXSW click HERE.