For audiences who love annual viewings of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, there’s a new road comedy out in select theaters and on-demand. The Long Dumb Road is a bit of left turn from Hannah Fidell, whose previous dramas A Teacher and 6 Years, focused on deeply flawed women. The Long Dumb Road may be a character-driven film, but it’s also an often outrageous, comedy with two male leads…Tony Revolori and Jason Mantzoukas. Fidell and Revolori were in town to discuss the new film, one of the frustrating aspects of being a female director, and the genius of Mantzoukas.
Lesley Coffin: How familiar were you with Tony and Jason when casting? Did you write with them in mind?
Hannah Fidell: No, not at all actually. My co-writer and I wrote the screenplay together and were really trying to develop the characters independently before considering the actors. And when we gave Tony and Jason the scripts they really connected to the material and their roles. We might have changed a couple of things on set, but we didn’t radically rewrite the film after casting the film.
Tony Revolori: Yeah, it’s just that when you’re on set that you make little tweaks, and that happens on any movie really. But the script pretty much stayed the same.
Lesley Coffin: What was your first impression when reading the screenplay?
Tony Revolori: Boy, it was a few years ago now, so I don’t think I remember my first impression. But I know that after reading it a couple of times I started noticing all the little details she’d written into the film and into my character. And then, I really started to appreciate the script after reading through it with Jason and once I started to talk with Hannah. I realized that she really created a character that had a distinct evolution.
Lesley Coffin: The film’s of course a road movie but it’s also a low-budget film. Did you have to film in one location and essentially fake the trip?
Hannah Fidell: Yeah, we stayed in an area of New Mexico and drove around there. I did a B unit shoot after wrapping production from Austin to Albuquerque, but the actors weren’t there. We really had to get creative, figuring out how to turn the landscape of Albuquerque into a place that could represent such a long trip.
Tony Revolori: For whatever reason though, we didn’t shoot in complete chronological order, but it was pretty close. The first scenes I had with Jason were the first scenes we shot together, so it made it easier to film our relationship as it evolved and deepened.
Hannah Fidell: Yeah, filming that way meant the actors didn’t have to make big leaps. And that ended up being to our advantage because we didn’t have the prep-time to rehearse as much as we otherwise might have. But that also meant the characters’ relationship could evolve naturally, just as the actors’ relationship did.
Tony Revolori: The bond we had definitely deepened as the characters interactions got weirder. He’s like my brother now. It helped the shoot that by the time we got to those scenes, we were comrades in arms, and when it comes time to depart we were sad to say goodbye but also knew it was time.
Lesley Coffin: Did you think of any of the classic road-buddy movies that had come before?
Hannah Fidell: A hundred percent. I’m not alone in saying Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is one of the all-time best films. It’s a classic. Carson and I weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel with this film, but I think we did in a low-key way. I mean, talking about who we cast…
Tony Revolori:…but also the way the characters were written. Most road comedies don’t delve into how psychologically messed up people can be. Most are either are all out comedies with lots of jokes, or dramas. And we tried to make an R-rated comedy that was character driven. And the aspect of casting two brown people as your leads, you have done something different. Richard’s thing is on an emotional spectrum more common, I find at least, in female characters now. And the women in the film are rather stoic and stable.
Lesley Coffin: Have you had any pushback as a female director making a film with two male characters?
Hannah Fidell: Yes, there was a lot of pushback. And I think it’s really stupid, primarily because it’s so easy for women directors to get boxed into only being allowed to do a certain kind of narrative. We get to do dramas where women go crazy or love stories, if we do a comedy it has to be a romantic comedy or a gross-out “female comedy.” And I feel like, why can’t I make whatever I want to make? Why can’t I make the movies that interest me? Isn’t it a more progressive act to make the movies that interest me personally and aren’t movies just about gender. I’ve been living the female experience my whole life, my first two films were about the female experience. That doesn’t mean I have to keep telling those same stories.
Lesley Coffin: Did you see that reaction primarily from those on the business side or critical end?
Hannah Fidell: Both. It was so dumb. Men don’t face the same thing, they’re allowed to tell stories of women all the time.
Tony Revolori: It’s very similar to the arguments minorities hear, a Latino actor will be pressured to make a movie about being Latino. Or gay actors are told by those in the industry they should play gay roles after they come out. That’s ridiculous. The whole point of being an actor, the reason we do it, is to play different characters. As written, Nat could have been played by an actor of a different race, he happens to be played by a brown actor and that’s just one aspect of who he is.
Lesley Coffin: Regarding the character of Nat, when writing him, why did you choose to write him as a photographer?
Hannah Fidell: I think it made sense for someone his age to be traveling in these parts of the country as a photographer looking for real America. He’s kind of based on my husband Jake, who’s a painter with the similar interest in his work.
Lesley Coffin: If Nat’s sort of based on your husband, did you base Richard on anyone specific?
Hannah Fidell: No one specific. There’s a lot of my co-writer Carson in the character of Richard. He tends to write characters who are sort of balls to the wall, but also very vulnerable. I think it’s accurate to compare his characters to the characters created by Danny McBride in Eastbound and Down and Vice Principals. That’s sort of his specialties, these very exaggerated versions of himself. And then Jason added a lot to the character with his performance.
Lesley Coffin: Let’s wrap up by talking a little about Jason in the film, who isn’t here but is great in the film. Did you know him from any roles that made you think of him for this part?
Hannah Fidell: I remember really taking notice of him for the first time in the show The League, where he played the character of Rafi. And there are some similarities to that character in Richard. But Jason’s been an actor I’d been watching for years and really wanted to work with.
Tony Revolori: Before you got here we were hatching our plan to start the campaign to get Jason an Oscar nomination. Comedies never get the love they deserve, but Jason does stuff in this that few actors could.
Hannah Fidell: And this is also a surprising turn from Jason that I think a lot of his fans will be surprised by. He’s funny and outrageous, but he manages to do some unlikable things while still eliciting empathy from the audience. I’m so glad we gave him an opportunity to show this new side, because he is such a huge talent.
Photo credit: Universal Pictures