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‘The Sleepwalker’ Writers on Balancing Filmmaking with Baby-Making

'The Sleepwalker' Writers on Balancing Filmmaking with Baby-Making

The Sleepwalker” is truly a family project, but it didn’t begin that way. The screenplay was co-written by Mona Fastvold and Brady Corbet, directed by Fastvold and features Corbet as one of the four principle characters. Since completing the film, the two have become a couple and welcomed a new baby four months ago. 

“The Sleepwalker” tells the story of a young couple, Kaia (Gitte Witt) and Andrew (Christopher Abbott), who are renovating Kaia’s secluded family estate. Their peace is upended one night when Kaia’s emotionally disturbed sister Christine (Stephanie Ellis) shows up unexpectedly, followed by her distraught boyfriend (Brady Corbet). As Christine’s behavior grows increasingly unhinged—including an unsettling incident of sleepwalking—long-buried traumas resurface. With a haunting score by Sondre Lerche, shocking family secrets shatter quiet country lives in this psychosexual thriller.

The film was a hit at Sundance earlier this year and acquired by IFC in the fall. Up next, the duo is officially heading into pre-production for “The Childhood of the Leader,” a period piece that will mark Corbet’s directorial debut and stars…oh just a little-known actor named Robert Pattinson. Though Corbet is holding onto a few secrets about the project, both he and Fastvold hopped on the phone with Indiewire to chat about writing together, first-time directing and their new family member. “The Sleepwalker” opens in theaters and on VOD today, November 21. 

READ MORE: Watch: Sisterly Secrets Make for Mystery in ‘The Sleepwalker’ Trailer
Let’s start at the beginning; tell me how you two met.

MF: We met through Christopher Abbott, who’s also in the film. We were friends for a long time before we started working together.

BC: We met about six years ago. But we were friends first and then partners in work and partners in life and it was a very, very slow evolution. What started off as, she was like, “Hey, I’d love your thoughts on this new material if you have a chance to look at it.” Mona and I started talking through the notes and we sort of realized that we had a really great rapport and maybe we should just start working on it together. And that’s what we did. I’m always been interested in films that use genre as an access point for the audience but then sort of subvert your expectations of whatever that is. And this was exactly what Mona had in mind with this.  

You guys wrote this screenplay together; tell me about that dynamic. How did you work together? Were there any parts that you disagreed on or where somebody walked out of the room in a rage?

MF: We’d sit together, and we’d type together on one computer. I don’t feel like we disagreed much. We just talked a lot and if there was a problem we’d try to weed it out and tweak it out and talk it out until we find it. 

BC: This is actually what I think is required of having a partner: To be the monkey on each other’s backs that keeps saying, “Yes, that’s good! Yes, that’s interesting! No, that’s not stupid.” So much of the process is putting bad ideas on the page and hammering them out until they become good ideas or become compelling ideas or become mature ideas.

MF: Also saying to each other, “We’re not quite there yet. There’s something missing.” And keep searching for that; to help each other find that thing that will elevate it.

Mona, this was your directorial debut. Did you have any expectations of what the experience might be like? How did the process live up to them?

MF: It’s not that different from the smaller things that I’ve done in the way that I got to work with a lot of my usual crew. In that way, it’s just really exciting to work on a bigger project, a longer project, now that you have more tools to explore the topic in a deeper and more exciting way than you get to do in short form. The only thing that was different for me was how much you navigate the social dynamics of everyone, from financing to the very end.

BC: Basically you just become a social mediator. You’re in a very strange position as the director. And I feel very sympathetic for every director I’ve ever worked with. You’re the boss, but you’re not the boss. In the same way that a producer is the boss but not the boss. Every boss has a boss, whether it be a financier, then the financier has some sort of lender that they’re working with. It’s never ending, who’s actually in control of everything. You find that you have to be very zen, which is something that Mona really is and something that I’m really not. I’m trying to take a few pointers there because I just get wildly frustrated with people. Everyone’s in a very vulnerable spot. And this is the thing about making movies that I don’t think enough people take into account, is that you’re asking a hundred people to do you a very, very big favor. It’s like, “Hey, do you want to come and make a hundred dollars a day to do very labor-intensive work on a project that may take two or three years to get distributed? It might do wonders for your career or nothing at all, who knows?”

MF: That’s just a beautiful thing, and you’re so cognitive of that when you’re actually making a film and you’re on set. When everything is working smoothly that’s truly a moving experience.

Mona, were there any challenges you faced as a female director? I’ve spoken to a lot of female directors and they all have different stories. What was your experience?

MF: There’s nothing I can really pinpoint what was a challenge for me because I’m a lady. I’m really lucky to have been raised in Norway, we have this amazing maternity leave that I get to take now in Norway. It’s a lot about economy. Maybe somebody would give me more money if I were a dude, but I don’t think so. If I’ve ever been treated in a lesser way because I’m a woman than I haven’t noticed because I was lucky to be raised to think that being a girl is an incredibly cool and exciting thing. 

Brady, you’re making your directorial debut with your next project, “The Childhood of a Leader” starring Robert Pattinson. What inspired you to want to direct? Were you inspired by Mona? 

BC: Mona’s nodding her head like, “Yes, that’s right Brady. It was me. It was me.”

MF: [Laughs]

BC: No, what’s actually stranger is that I didn’t attempt to do it sooner. And it’s strange that I kept acting as long as I did because for years I kept threatening to walk away and do something else. But the reason I never did walk away and do something else was I kept having opportunities to work with people I really liked and really loved. I was like, “Ok, I love your work. Absolutely I can spare a week, I can spare a month.” I’ve worked for some people that I would have been happy to come wash their floors on set for a week just to see how they work, much less to have the relationship that an actor and a director get to have with one another, which is very special and sometimes very intimate, very unique. I’ve found every filmmaker I’ve worked with inspiring, Mona included. 

One of the big problems with this project is that it summarized all the things I’ve really been interested in in my personal and creative life. And yet for so many years I just thought it was too grand and too ambitious to ever get made. 

MF: And it almost did.

BC: And it almost did [laughs]. The film takes place in 1919, it stars a child, it’s in French and English. Luckily it’s not going to be four-and-a-half hours long and it’s not going to be black-and-white. But that’s it. It’s not a very easy pitch. It’s sort of about the birth of a megalomaniac and with a maniacal sort of ego at the turn of the century. It’s about the birth of fascism that occurred during the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. 

Has the identity of this character been revealed?

BC: I have intentionally not revealed the identity of the character. And it’s a funny thing because it’s not for the reasons that people think. One thing I will happily tell everybody is that the character is not Hitler [laughs]. And the character is not Mussolini. It’s someone else. And there’s the dramatic event where you learn who this person is and that’s something I want to save for people. Robert Pattinson is not playing Hitler as you now know [laughs]. I’ll go on the record saying that.
 
I’m sure that’s what everyone’s thinking. So you guys are actually a couple now. Can you tell me about how that came to be? Was it during “The Sleepwalker” or after? 

BC: It was after. And we had just been close for so long and working together in the same spaces for so long that it just happened. When you’re working on a movie together in that capacity, from pre-production, production, and post-production, it’s a very intimate process. It was quite a long time after the film was finished actually. Our love life is very exciting for us, [but] it’s not too exciting for anybody else.

You have a baby now, too, right?

MF: Yes! We just had a baby four months ago.

BC: She’s terrible [laughs]. She’s amazing! She’s wonderful. She’s really really cool. She’s the easiest part of our life now that we’re in the long haul trying to get “The Childhood of the Leader” off the ground. Our four-month-old is easier to deal with than the movie.

Now that you’re parents how do you balance it with this industry? What seems to get in the way more?

BC: She’s in the room, she’s in the car seat.

MF: It’s fine. It’s actually easier to find the balance because we work together. It’s easier for us to plan our days and where we’re going to live in the world and where she’s going to come with us together.

BC: It definitely makes life easier. And it’s just one, we only have one. If you have like seven running around it gets a little more complicated. But one is simple in the beginning. 

READ MORE: Sundance Review: ‘The Sleepwalker’ Starring Brady Corbet Is An Unsettling Look At Family Dysfunction & Secrets

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