When Adam Driver and Alba Rohrwacher each took home the top acting prizes at the 2014 Venice Film Festival, heads in the industry turned. It’s a rare occasion that co-stars deliver equally committed and memorable performances in a largely under-the-radar film.
In Saverio Costanzo’s “Hungry Hearts,” Driver and Rohrwacher are Jude and Mina, a couple whose romance yields a nightmarish reality. They meet-cute in the first scene, an eight-minute comedic long take in which they’re trapped in a restaurant bathroom, and embark on a frenzied and all-consuming love affair. At first, “Hungry Hearts” plays like a familiar quirky love story. But Saverio throws a wrench in your expectations. Mina, who harbors an intense distrust of medical professionals, begins refusing treatment for their newborn child. As her paranoia escalates into psychosis, the couple becomes so diametrically opposed that the other morphs into a monster.
“Hungry Hearts” is a bold psychological thriller reminiscent of “Rosemary’s Baby,” by turns exasperating, unsettling, claustrophobic, and deeply disturbing. It’s at once a stark reminder of the destructive power of love and a cultural autopsy of the rejection of modern science. Driver expands his range into deeply dramatic territory with a role that pushes him to extremes, while Rohrwacher brings nuance to a character with whom it’s difficult to empathize. Indiewire sat down with the actors to discuss their roles in what is ultimately a challenging cinematic experience.
The film opens with a brilliant improvised scene in which the characters are locked in a bathroom together. What was it like shooting one long take for eight minutes in a claustrophobic space?
Adam Driver: I don’t feel like you get that opportunity a lot of times, in film or television. It also took two days, just because it was a hard scene to get right. There were a lot of levels to find. Because it was all in one take and we were all very committed to doing it that way, and it was the opening of the movie, it was something that we wanted to do right. That threat that it could go really wrong was…. Well, I feel good. It was a good way to start a film.
Alba Rohrwacher: We shot the scene last. It was the last thing we did. It was very important for the rhythm. It’s funny, but the scene says a lot about the movie. We are in a small place, stuck, and there is a smell that arises from the body. Jude and Mina, they are waiting for someone that can save them from outside. So it’s something very light, but at the same time it could be very dark in another perspective.
Definitely. It portends the couple’s fate. What attracted you initially to the project?
Driver: Alba was really one of the best actresses I’d seen. That was kind of it. I thought the script was very unpredictable. Two people kind of turned into animals over something they’d both created seemed very interesting to me.
Rohrwacher: Yeah, the script was very precise, and the two characters are very alive, even on the page. And I know Saverio Costanzo because we did a movie together. I could imagine what kind of experience the movie would be. Also, Adam was the kind of actor Costanzo was looking for. And I can understand why. The movie happened because of Adam.
What was unique about experiencing these roles? Have either of you played parents before?
Driver: This is the first time I had to play a father. It was really different, the way we worked on it, because there wasn’t a lot of time or money. It was a lot of first impulses. I can feel like I want to have more control in a way that’s not necessarily good, but the way we were working on it seemed to fit the film’s intensity. So it stands alone. Yes, definitely unique, I’d say.
Along those lines: You’re both incredibly unique performers who are changing the sensibility of the leading actor. How do you feel about that statement? Do you think it’s true?
Rohrwacher: That’s a feeling I have for Adam. Unique. He’s a very special actor. Very unique and very sensitive. And working with him, for me it’s like finding a home, you know? A home where you can be safe. We are looking for the truth; the truth of the character. I can speak about him, but not about me.
Driver: In the “Solitude of Prime Numbers,” which is one of the first things I had seen Alba in, she physically seems frail, but is so unpredictable and vulnerable, and very strong. The conflict that goes on in her, you constantly see that motor going when you’re watching her. And I feel like that’s a really exciting quality that she brings to everything that she plays. That’s a unique thing about her. Physically, I find her beautiful. And frail. And that’s always really exciting to watch.
The skepticism of modern medicine and the rejection of science is a relevant issue in America these days. What are your personal stances?
Driver: I was overseas was when the whole controversy about people getting vaccinated [happened], and I was like, “How crazy is it that America is such a wealthy country that people are turning down vaccinations?” Overseas, a lot of families don’t even have the option of getting their kids vaccinated. It seems like a no-brainer thing. I mean, I’m definitely skeptical of medicine and pills, because I’m scared of everybody and don’t trust anything. But I guess it’s hard for me to judge those people without having been in their shoes. Modern medicine’s a fucking weird thing. Pharmaceutical companies and prescription drugs… it all seems very “Big Brother” to me.
Did you have a hard time separating yourself ethically from the issues in order to escape judging the Mina character?
Driver: On the outside, it seems like there’s an obvious answer. But in Mina’s world, she thinks she’s doing the best for her child. Some people think that. It’s really hard to be empathetic, especially now. There is an attitude in society of ganging up, because of the internet, or, I don’t know, everyone’s so interconnected. Everyone attacking someone for how they live their life without having the patience or empathy to look at it from their perspective.
Rohrwacher: If you speak about Mina, what you can see is that she’s like a monster, a dangerous mother. But in fact, if you stay with her, you see she does everything because of love, you know? She just wants good things for the child.
Do you think, Adam, that your character in the film recognizes that motivation of love?
Driver: Yeah. I think that’s what keeps him from acting faster. Yeah, I think [his recognition of her love] is what keeps him from seeing the situation with a third eye.
How did you handle the tonal shift, from the first act to the second, when the film starts to turn into a “Rosemary’s Baby”-esque thriller?
Driver: Because of the way Saverio shot it and the circumstances he set up, it all kind of felt like a fluid thing to us. For me, it did.
Rohrwacher: It’s the characters in eye of Saverio that changed. It became a nightmare.
Driver: Yeah, he changed how we were looking at it, which is what’s interesting about this movie.
What is each of your relationship like to the indie film scene? Obviously, Adam, you’re no stranger to it. You’ve worked with Noah Baumbach and on “Girls.” And Alba, you’re mostly working in the European film space.
Rohrwacher: For me, story of the movie is most important, and often the best stories are in independent film.
Driver: I feel like I’ve been able to work on things that are bigger, that are smaller. I think people are willing to take more of a risk on an indie film, about character, etc…but at the same time, when I work on projects that are substantially bigger, in a way they do feel small. Even though the catering is way better and we actually have someone shooting with real film…. The budgets are bigger but the story still feels small, like an indie film. Breaking it down into moments — how do you make those characters feel as real as possible? At that point, the size of [the movie] doesn’t really matter.
Rohrwacher: What is important is to maintain integrity of the story, of the character, of the movie, even if it’s a big production, you know? And you can do it. What I’m looking for is the director, the story, that’s it’s always alive.
Driver: When I was still in school or when I was a teenager I had really strong opinions about, oh, Hollywood fuckin’ sucks and is terrible. When you are a teenager you look at indie movies like the only possibility to be free. But I think it’s possible to be free in a big production. It’s the eye of the director and the actor and the story…. Also, without making it precious. Like, who’s to say that you can’t learn the same thing from, uh —
From “Star Wars” versus “Hungry Hearts.”
Driver: Right, right. Well, “Star Wars” started as an indie film with a lot of money. With JJ Abrams, it wasn’t effects and how are we were going to sell it. It was story and character from the beginning.