Unafraid of digging into the most personal, often painful, fibers of their personalities, married co-directors Thomas Beatty & Rebecca Fishman created a film that feels brutally honest and human, while constantly easing away the drama with colorful humor. In their feature debut The Big Ask, the characters are not always likeable. They can be stubborn, selfish, and hurtful at times. Of course, there is also a pprofound love between all of them, and the kind nature of people is also highlighted, but it is perhaps in the way they express their negative emotions that the real greatness of the film shines.
After losing his mother to cancer, Andrew (David Krumholtz) finds himself incredibly lost. He and his girlfriend Hannah (Melanie Lynskey) invite his friends over to spend a week together at a house in the California desert to show support. What the group is not expecting is an odd request that Andrew thinks will save him from his depression. Bluntly and unashamed he explains he wants to have sex with both of his friends’ girlfriends. What is perceived as a joke at first escalates to hilarious and heartbreaking proportions that expose the deep loneliness and need for compassion that afflict him.
Showcasing great performances from the entire cast, this is a powerful and tonally interesting first effort from the directing duo. Clearly Thomas Beatty has shown that his talent and ambition are equally as great, but separate from those of his famous father – who also appears briefly in the film. Here is what the directors had to share about the personal journey to create the story, the challenges of being new parents in the film world, and their protagonist’s issues.
Aguilar: There is such a tangible human quality to the interactions between the characters that feels incredibly honest, both in the way they love each other and their conflicts. What was the origin of this story?
Thomas: Rebecca and I had a really tough year a couple years ago that definitely tested our relationship, but we made it out of it. When we came out the
other side, we both knew it was something we wanted to make a movie about. A lot of what we went through had to do with me going through a really tough time. I felt like I was unfairly asking Rebecca to be there for me in a way that wasn’t necessarily appropriate, but which I found myself incapable of not
doing. I wanted to write about that but I didn’t know how to do it without it being the saddest movie ever. Then, this idea came to me and it made me laugh,
but it also felt like it got at what it means to be in pain in a way that makes you crazy.
Aguilar: As a married couple making a film about other couples, what kind of experience was it? Was it therapeutic, cathartic, crazy?
Thomas: Yes! [Laughs]
Rebecca: Definitely all of those things. It was a challenge to be directing together but also really fun. Since this is loosely based on our lives we drew
some of the characters from people in our life. We were working through a lot of different stuff both through the movie and by making the movie.
Thomas: David actually auditioned, which is pretty crazy to think that an actor of his caliber would audition for a movie of this scope, but he really
responded to the script. Of course we were immediately interested, but there were some reservations whether this was something that he could pull off. Then
he came in and gave the greatest audition I’ve ever seen anyone give, to this date I’ve never seen anything like it. He blew it out of the water.
Aguilar: Why does Andrew feel this is the only way that he could be happy? He could ask for a hundred different things, but why this? Is it the boundaries that it
Thomas: That’s a really good question. I was trying to get at what happens when as a child you don’t get the kind of love you need, and you are left as an
adult with a child’s need for love. You need to be taken care of in a way that a parent takes care of a child, but that is not appropriate to ask of your
partner or to ask of anyone else in your life. It just felt to me that if you needed nurturing that badly, specially when you are grown up and sexuality
is a part of your life, this would be a way to tap into that. He is so earnest about thinking that is going to be a good thing. The fact that it
is so taboo for everyone involved, made it feel like it was a way to approach the subject in a way that would be interesting even in a contained
Aguilar: The rest of the cast was also great, they are all at the edge between comedy and a nervous breakdown throughout the film. How did you divide the directorial duties on set?
Rebecca: We divided the directorial duties differently. I’m actually a photographer as my day job; therefore, I took on more of the visual side of
storytelling and Thomas worked primarily with the actors, but there was definitely a lot of overlap.
Thomas: My dad is an actor and both Rebecca and I were actors for a long time, so we put a lot of importance on creating an atmosphere where actors felt
comfortable and encouraged to do really good work and try things. In what little rehearsal time we had we focused on the relationships between these people
and how vital it was for it to feel like they were all intimately close with each other. That’s why they stick around. We worked a lot with them on this, and
I’m proud of that aspect of the movie. I think it shows that we have a good eye for great actors because everyone is on excellent and they feel like real
Aguilar: The location is another interesting aspect of the film. This isolated house in the desert adds to the emotional isolation Andrew feels. Is that why you chose it?
Rebecca: The house that we shot in is actually the house that we go out to with our friends every year to celebrate New Years. We knew we wanted to set
our movie in the desert and we chose this house in particular because the landscape is something we both really love. There is just a lot of built in
production value in Joshua Tree, when you are making a movie for such a small budget you have to look for that added production value whatever you can. We
also wanted to set it in an isolated place because it means we are removing these people from their actual life allowing us to create sort of a fairytale
environment. Here you might do things that you might not otherwise do in “real life.” We wanted to add this fantastical, fairytale element.
Aguilar: Thomas, how difficult or emotional was it to work with your dad, Ned Beatty, in that small scene in the film?
Thomas: It was really wonderful. I was really scared to show him the script and ask him to do it, not because I thought he would say no, but because this is
something he is so accomplished at. He was totally supportive the whole time. He really appreciated the script, and he got a real kick out of it. He was
just so prepared and he was so “on” when the camera started rolling. I’ve enjoyed him in so many movies, and it was inspiring for me to be making a movie
and see the quality of work that he does. It was really special for me.
Aguilar: Do you guys plan to keep working together in the future making films as a couple?
Rebecca: We definitely want to work together again. Now we have a baby so it’ll be tougher to do something where we are both on set at the same time, just
because is so time consuming and all involving. But we are collaborators through and through, so I’m sure we will be doing this again.
Thomas: There are so many things to learn on your first movie. The second this movie was done we wanted to get back out there because we’ve learned so
much and we feel there is so much more to learn.
Aguilar: What are you working now? What’s your next project?
Thomas: We really love working in the indie world because the opportunity to do something different is there. However, within that world there are still
limitations on what you can do at any given time. Therefore, we are simultaneously developing projects. One is a play that I wrote that is very dear to our
hear, and we know is going to take a while to get done. We are also working on some genre scripts and trying to get one of them to where we feel it is
ready to go out.
Aguilar: There are a lot of emotions and distinct themes in The Big Ask. What is at the core of the film? Is it Andrew’s issues and the way he tries to solve them?
Rebecca: I understand that Andrew is a dislikable character but he does say what he wants. There is something about how he is trying to get in touch
with how he feels that is real even as misguided as it is. At the end of the film he starts to go down the road of learning to take care of his own needs. What I would like people to take away from the
film is that you have to be there for yourself. You can’t ask other people to be there for you until you learn to take of yourself.