Every Friday, Indiewire’s new Springboard column
will profile an up-and-comer in the indie world who deserves your attention. Select profiles will include photography by
Daniel Bergeron, exclusive to Indiewire. Today we talk to Charlie McDowell, the director of “The One I Love,” which world premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and screens this week at the Tribeca Film Festival.
At only 30, Charlie McDowell already has a published book and a feature film under his belt. And with over 92,000 followers, he’s a sensation on Twitter. His debut book, “Dear Girls Above Me,” is based on his wildly successful Twitter feed that ranked sixth on Time magazine’s “Top 140 Twitter Accounts of 2012.” His film, “The One I Love,” is a separate beast entirely. Starring Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss, “The One I Love” is impossible to describe without giving away the film’s central conceit. What we can tell you: It centers on a married couple, on the brink of separation, who escape to a beautiful vacation house to work out their problems. And that’s all we’re saying.
Moss and Duplass are both sensational in their parts, which serves as a true testament to McDowell’s ability to draw the best out of his performers. McDowell does have his fair share of experience in dealing with actors — he’s the son of Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen (and stepson of Ted Danson). RADiUS-TWC will open the film Aug. 15.
I had been working really hard to get something going for a while when I graduated film school. This film ended up being absurdly easy to put together. But I had been struggling for a while before that. I felt ready and had put in my time.
If I say that I felt totally confident then I feel like an arrogant piece of shit. What I did believe in is, if that for me I knew that I wanted to make a film that wasn’t a film that a hundred people I know could direct. It was something I wanted to do that, for better or worse, stood out. You wouldn’t get that from a run-of-the-mill story.
I definitely made the movie I wanted to make and I felt confident in that. But there were reservations of, “Is this going to hit?” And “Is this something people will respond to?”
For me, it’s always been performance first and everything else second. I’ve always been interested in great performances and the way that actors work and think. My parents are actors, so I grew up in the world. It was always something nailed in my head without me really realizing it. Going into making my first movie, I got to work with two great actors. It’s a huge part of the process, casting. It was just a full-on collaboration with the two.
Acting did interest me for a moment, but then I realized I was really bad at it, and I don’t like doing things I’m not good at.
My dad was on this show “Heroes.” There was an episode that explored the lives of the characters when they were much younger. I look like my dad, and so someone had read that breakdown and told me I had to go in and read for it. The producers were really excited. I went into this audition and I was so painfully bad that it was so uncomfortable for everyone. They wanted to spoon feed me this part because the casting was so obvious. The fact that I couldn’t get a part to play my dad at an early age shows you how bad of an actor I am.
I grew up on a set. My parents were like any other parents, except that they had a bizarre, interesting profession. I didn’t care about it. I just cared about getting candy at crafts service. I think I started to realize the more I hung out on set… the directors. I found their job so much more interesting, because they were steering the ship.
It was such an intimate, almost camp-like experience making this film, so everyone felt very comfortable early on. But I remember being terrified about, “How do we begin?” I remember the first day being really weird. I used very little from what we shot on that day. We were all trying to figure out how to come together and get on the same page.