“The Freebie” writer-director (and indie darling) Katie Aselton is following up her well-received debut with a film that couldn’t be further from the winning romantic comedy. Boasting a screenplay by Mark Duplass, her husband and current co-star on FX’s hit series “The League” (they also memorably appeared together in the Duplass brothers’ “The Puffy Chair”), her second feature “Black Rock” centers on a trio of women (Aselton, Lake Bell and Kate Bosworth) who set out on an all-girls’ trip off the coast of Maine. Once on the island however, the three are surprised to learn that a small all-male group have planned the exact same thing. Their getaway takes a turn for the dire when one of the men take it too far with Aselton’s character, leaving the three fighting for their survival on the island.
Indiewire called up Aselton and Duplass to discuss switching gears with “Black Rock,” Aselton’s chops as an action star, and casting Bell and Bosworth. “Black Rock” opens in select theaters this Friday, May 17.
I remember that back at Sundance, where this world premiered in the Midnight section last year, a lot of people were surprised at the trajectory you took from “The Freebie” to this, just given the genre roots of “Black Rock.” Was this a deliberate move on your part to prove that you could dabble in other genres, Katie?
Katie Aselton: I don’t think it was an effort to prove anything, more of wanting to explore other genres as an actor and filmmaker. I think I’m still trying to find my voice as a filmmaker and finding stories to tell. I was always interested in this type of thriller and telling this type of story and definitely it’s a role I’ve always wanted to play as an actor. I’ve always had a secret longing to be in a Jason Bourne movie. So it was a fun way to meld the two interests.
Katie, you’re not credited for writing the screenplay, but I know you played a large part in dreaming up the project. Could you talk about the genesis and whose idea it was to have these three ladies on an island?
Mark Duplass: For me, it was always this feeling that if Katie had not fallen into “The League” and become a comedic actress that she would have been this fascinating and interesting action or thriller actress. It could’ve gone that way, it just didn’t. I always wanted to see her in one of those movies, and then we were on the coast of Maine for the holidays where Katie grew up, and it just so happens that it is a beautiful and ominous place. Being the independent filmmakers we are, we started to think up story ideas. Once we landed on this idea of making a “Deliverance”-style thriller with girls in the driver’s seat, a sort of early ’70s, more naturalistic style thriller, this really kicked us off running. So I banged out something rough, then over the next month or two Katie and I moved it back and forth and got it in shape.
Mark, given that you wrote “Black Rock” wanting to give Katie a chance to flex her action star muscles; I’m curious as to why you two decided to make it an ensemble piece as opposed to a star-vehicle.
KA: That’s a good question, I’ve never really thought about that. I liked the idea of playing with the inner personal dynamics of three women and playing up each characters strengths and weakness and watching that power struggle and that dynamic switch. I think each character has her moment of being the pillar of the group and I like that idea and sort of comradery. But also as an actor and filmmaker, I really like collaborating as a group.
MD: It also helps the stigma of the movie in that we wanted to start it feeling like one of our movies that we would’ve traditionally made with three women going to an island to reconnect. Initially the problems in the movie are what we’d call upper-middle class problems. Relationship problems and problems with passive aggressive behavior, and then something shifts and breaks it out of that into something real. So the ensemble helps with that DNA shift.
In your script Mark, you have Katie endure a horrifying incident that kicks off the thriller portion of the film. Katie, what was your reaction to reading that passage and knowing you’d have to act it out?
KA: It was a lot, but at the same time I would rather have it be me than one of my other girls do it. So I’ll take it on, it’s fine. And it’s an interesting talent to take on as an actor. It’s pretty dark but certainly nothing to shy away from.
Leading up to the Sundance premiere the film was shrouded in a crazy amount of secrecy. Not a lot of people knew if it was going to be a “Deliverance”-type movie, or a straight-up horror flick. Who’s idea was it to keep it so hush-hush and do you miss that, now that people know what they’re into for the most part?
MD: It almost happened accidentally because the movie was made off the grid. A lot of our movies are made that way. It’s entirely an independent film. Now that it’s been purchased and marketed like a mainstream film, it can look different. But I think it’s important for everybody to remember that this is a group of 20-25 people who ran off to make this movie together. There’s nothing better than having an audience watch your film knowing nothing about it. You’ve got them in the best possible space and Sundance was perfect for that. That being said, there are some positives about people knowing more about the movie. When Katie and I are involved in a movie together there’s a certain expectation that it’s going to be funny and sensitive with some feelings in it. Now that people are a little more prepared, that has it’s benefits. So there are some wins and losses to that.
KA: Ohe flip side of that, as well as not knowing much about it and knowing that the movie was in the Midnight section, I think people had some expectations on the other side as far as people expecting it to be more of a horror film than it was. So like Mark said, there were wins and losses on both sides. But it was fun to go in as the dark horse that no one knew much about but there was a lot of interest. It was a lot of fun.
Katie, you and your two gal pals in the film (Kate Bosworth and Lake Bell) have such an easy, great rapport. Did you three know each other before or was it just a random casting coup?
KA: It wasn’t random but we didn’t know each other nearly to the extent that we know do. Lake and I were social friends, Lake and Kate were social friends. Lake and I run in similar professional circles and I knew her as being a really cool, smart, stunning obviously, but really smart girl. She is just confident and has an amazing presence and that’s what I wanted out of these characters. I loved these women who use their big girl voices and stood up and were strong in stature and presence. So I talked to her about the idea and she really responded to the idea. I sent her the script and she totally got it on the level I hoped she would.
From there it was like “who’s going to play Sarah?” She put out the idea of Kate, saying she’s super cool and she thought I’d like her. I loved Kate. I think she’s adorable and sweet and I thought for sure she wanted nothing to do with this and it wasn’t her cup of tea. But she loved the script and any concerns I had that she was too chic for “Black Rock” were blown out the window in the first two minutes. Her spirit was electric and she had the exact energy and vibe that I wanted to fill out the group. From that point on it was this three-way love affair between us. We clicked so well and it was fortunate, because it’s tough when you’re playing people who were supposed to know each other their entire lives. You can’t fake that chemistry well, so I got very lucky with that.
I love both of your work on “The League,” so I have to ask you Mark: Will Katie be joining you on your upcoming HBO show, “Togetherness”?
MD: The truth of that is that Katie and I are both on “The League” and we would love to have Katie be a part of the show but the way it works is that the only way I can do something outside of FX is that I’m the creator of it and that allows me to do it. So we’re going to have to wait until the audience is done and tired with “The League” before we can scoop Katie up for “Togetherness.”