Jason Sudeikis (“Saturday Night Live,” “Horrible Bosses”) and Dianna Agron (“Glee”) each has two films in the Tribeca Film Festival this year. I saw both of Jason’s on Sunday, and he has now confirmed his place as a leading man. Both are called romantic comedies, but I would consider “Tumbledown” to be a dramedy, as it deals with grief and trying to move on after a tragic loss.
I was impressed with both movies – “Tumbledown” and “Sleeping With Other People” – but “Tumbledown” was the subject of discussion at a roundtable interview on Sun., Apr. 19, 2015 with a few journalists, along with Jason, Dianna, first-time director Sean Mewshaw, and his wife, Desiree Van Til, who is the first-time screenwriter of the film.
In “Tumbledown,” Rebecca Hall (“Frost/Nixon,” “Iron Man 3”) plays a widow (Hannah) whose young husband, Hunter, dies suddenly after having released a folk album that made him a cult hero. Jason plays Andrew, a huge fan of Hunter’s and an academic who wants to write a book about the man. At first, Hannah wants nothing to do with Andrew because she’s sick of strangers expecting her to share her personal grief with them.
But when Hannah, who is herself a professional writer, struggles to get Hunter’s biography on paper, she turns to Andrew for help. What happens after that is both unpredictable and predictable from a romcom perspective. I found much of the film’s trajectory to be delightfully surprising, even though the ultimate ending is essentially what you would expect.
It costars a host of greats, including Blythe Danner, Richard Masur, Griffin Dunne, and Joe Manganiello. There are also haunting original songs by Damien Jurado as Hunter.
Below are the highlights from the interview.
Jason on whether he has ever been obsessed, like Andrew, with a famous figure:
Jason: I have that with Olivia Wilde currently. [Laughter; Olivia is Jason’s real-life significant other.] I think musically, gosh, I mean, yeah, I went through obsessions here and there. I had my Frank Sinatra phase, which actually I was brought into by Harry Connick, Jr…. But Ben Folds has been a consistent one….
On Andrew’s obsession with Hunter’s music in the film:
Jason: Personally, I think a good song is one that when you’re just recently in love or just deeply in love, it’s the happiest song in the world. And then, you listen to the same song after he or she breaks your heart, and you’re just like, “Oh, this is f***ing horrible, this song.” And you hear cover versions of it. “Oh, come on, Dixie Chicks, I don’t need this right now. Not you, too!” And I could see that it’s that little handshake you have with certain art when it finds you at a certain time….
Desiree (Desi): It’s not like your obsession or your interest in Hunter began with his death. You listened to him, and you discovered him [before].
Sean: That is one of the things that we were interested in exploring is why is it that when an artist, somebody who has only one album passes away, then suddenly, they become more interesting in some way. And Hannah going through this very, very personal pain that she has to address on the public stage.
It’s something that Desi was investigating because she grew up in this small town where the story is set, and when there was a loss in that small town, it resonated throughout the whole community. Everybody felt it in a sort of a microcosm way, not the way in which it works in the movie, but the people who felt the pain the most had to address the fact that all of their friends suddenly saw them as people who were hurt and people who had lost someone.
And we were interested in trying to understand what that means when it’s on the world stage. Suddenly, everybody in the world knows you as the widow, and they’re coming after you for what the widow knows. You don’t even get to be human anymore….
Jason: Yeah, you become almost like a symbol for whatever pain and loss they go through. That’s what I [Andrew] was putting on Hannah.
Dianna on the film’s similarity to her own situation of having to deal publicly with the loss of her friend, Cory Monteith, from “Glee”:
Dianna: That was an awful time … but I guess similar to Hannah or to anybody dealing with a friend that’s taken far too early, I think there are the stages that you go through. And by the time I was doing the film, I had really gone through the thick of it….
What I do find interesting is that over the course of time with people that I’ve lost in my life, there are moments where there’s somebody new that comes into your life and does something or says something that’s so eerily reminiscent of that person. It’s happened to me a few times with my grandmother, with Cory, and a few other people where you’re just like, “Oh, my God,” and you have to stop and process it and be so thankful for it. I think that that makes loss much easier to deal with.
Sean on the original songs that were crafted for the film:
Sean: We were going after musicians while we were trying to make the film over the course of years because we imagined that we would get a great musician to record an album for us, and that would help us get the movie made, in a sense. Like, it’s going to be about this artist, so here’s that voice. But it just played out that we couldn’t get anybody to commit. In talking to a lot of the musicians, they said they had trouble figuring out where their music ended and where the music of Hunter would begin. “Do you want me to sound like myself?” “Am I putting on a voice?”
We ended up getting Damien Jurado to commit to doing the film while we were in pre-production, and he was on tour with this great last album of his. So, he didn’t have time to record anything for us before we went on set.
The great thing is there are all these wonderful musicians who we were imagining while Desi was writing the screenplay. We could listen to them on set. I think it worked out even better because Damien could then watch the film after we shot it and take his inspiration and create his character in resonance with the characters that these guys created on set. He could watch Rebecca Hall and fall in love with his wife and write songs for her.
It was funny. When Damien was in the middle of writing it while we were in post-production, he was watching the movie in character as Hunter. We had some conversation where he was like, “Yeah, man, I like the movie a lot, but I’m kinda like pissed at Hannah right now because she’s with this other guy!” I was like, but you can’t do that from beyond the grave. You can’t have that perspective! [Laughter]
Jason: It’s why that song from the album in the movie, “F*** Andrew” makes no sense. It was “F*** Andrew (Don’t).” [This is a joke, of course. There is no such song in the film.]
On the moments of off-script improvisation in the film:
Desiree: There are two, maybe three, moments that get really big laughs that are yours [Jason’s], and when we watch the movie, we’re just like, “F***ing Sudeikis, man! How does he know?” … I have to give sincere props to Jason because it was kind of odd. It sounds ridiculous, but when he was showing up on set and we were having our first rehearsal, I remember saying to Sean, “Why does it seem like he’s already in my brain? He’s reading it how I completely imagined it – the tone of voice….”
Jason: Good punctuation!
Desiree: …It just shows how much affinity Jason and Andrew had that Jason just completely slipped into his skin in a way that I was like, “This is exactly how I imagined, only better.”
On the trajectory of getting the film made from concept to casting well-known actors:
Sean: It was a really long road over the course of many, many years. Desi started writing the screenplay … it was inspired by watching “Before Sunrise,” diving into Linklater, and it sort of started with two characters, Andrew and Hannah, just talking about life and talking about different ways to live life – the city life and the country life…. And it developed into this story.
At a certain point, I’d been in Los Angeles for ten years, and we’d made a short film together and not killed each other doing it. We weren’t married yet. We enjoyed that process, and I said, “We’ve gotta make our first feature.” That was eight years ago.
[I said, ] “Now, let’s go do it. You wrote this great movie set in your hometown. I love your hometown. I love all the people in it. What we’ll do is we’ll move to Maine. We’ll bring the circus to your hometown. We’ll use all the real people.”
Desiree: We’ll sell all our stuff.
Sean: Sell your car. Dump it all, and go make this movie right away.
Desiree: For nothing!
Sean: For nothing! Let’s steal money from our friends. Maybe, maybe some actors from New York, who knows, will come up and do it with us. And the second we packed our bags and left, we got very, very fortunate. Because we’d been working in the industry for so long, we had connections to some people who got it to this wonderful, wonderful man named John Levin who works at CAA. And he had this great emotional connection to Maine….
Some people who love Maine connected to this story and just said, “This is worthy of being done on a larger scale. You should wait. Don’t make it really small. Please, please, please show it to some actors.” Mainly, this role for a wonderful female lead was something that people felt like was very valuable that actresses would want to get their teeth into.
That process is what took the majority of the time because with a small film with a first-time director and no money, you hand off that script, and even though people are enthusiastic about it, it would take eight months to hear from the one individual that we were going after. We had some bites, and we got actors attached through personal connections of friends.
Then, a couple of years ago … we mugged Jason.
Jason: They didn’t take anything from me, they just stuffed a script…. It was the most pleasant mugging and then, some syrup. Little bottles….
Sean: I can’t believe how lucky we are. It’s a dream come true to work with these guys and to work with Rebecca.
Dianna on her other film in the festival called “Bare”:
Dianna: I’m in every scene, every shot, every everything. I get a little naked in it. I’m just really happy that my family isn’t here, and I can like do it step by step…. That’ll be interesting getting on the stage after for the Q&A. “So, how did you feel when you were naked in the sand with that snake crawling over you?”
Sean: This is my kind of film! I went in the wrong direction.
Jason on having two films in the festival:
Jason: The fact that they both fall under romantic comedies, and they couldn’t be more different, I think that’s a celebration of what independent films can do where you get original voices…. To get to show those different sides, which is simply for me one with a beard and one without. And yet, to just be a vessel for those voices…. It’s follicle acting. There’s Stanislavski; I’m Gilette.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a trailer or a release date for the film yet, but watch for it. I highly recommend it.