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Interview: Zoe Cassavetes Talks ‘Day Out Of Days,’ Anti-Heroines, And The State of Hollywood Filmmaking

Interview: Zoe Cassavetes Talks 'Day Out Of Days,' Anti-Heroines, And The State of Hollywood Filmmaking

Zoe Cassavetes’ second feature film “Day Out of Days” debuted at the Los Angeles Film Festival last week —it’s an appropriate venue for the film, which is about navigating Hollywood as a 40 year old actress. The movie is a tremendous showcase for Cassavetes’ co-writer and star, Alexia Landeau, who plays Mia Roarke as flawed, often unsympathetic, but ultimately human, and worth rooting for. Mia turns to searching for meaning in her work after finding her personal life to be lacking in what she expected at her age (marriage, kids), with her career floundering too.

Our review called the film “the perfect depiction of the easy come, easy go nature of stardom and worth in Hollywood,” and opined that “Cassavetes deftly explores these issues with a great deal of nuance and an unflinching eye.” We talked on the phone with Cassavetes from her Paris home last week about the intricacies of the film, how it got made, and what she was trying to depict with Mia’s story.

Cassavetes was working on another project, which was “getting increasingly harder and more expensive,” as she says, when she thought to write a “fast, funny thing for Alexia.” Their writing collaboration began when she arrived in Los Angeles and the two started going over the script together. Cassavetes realized that “suddenly we were working at it every day, to the point where I realized that it was better to incorporate ourselves, her experiences, with what I wanted, just to be able to get to such a real truth. I’m really lucky that she’s not only my star but she’s an excellent writer… the collaboration was really, really wonderful in this situation, because both of us were so close to it, but each had our own experiences that we brought to it.”

READ MORE: 10 Female Directors Who Deserve More Attention From Hollywood 

Of the outlandish humiliations that Mia has to endure throughout the course of the film, Cassavetes wryly says, “you can’t make a lot of that stuff up, you know?” The experiences are cobbled together from “a lot of actress friends… hearing all those stories, her stories, my stories, when I tried to be an actress all those years ago.” However, she says the intent was to use the setting as a “platform for a story about a woman struggling with her identity, and what her use was based on what she thought about herself and what other people were just blatantly saying to her…that over the top and complete honesty that we all feel underneath, that creepy feeling that someone’s not telling you the real reason that you’re not getting [a part].”

Cassavetes embraced her antiheroine, who is in many ways similar to the lead character in her 2007 film “Broken English.” She said “she’s human. She has good days and bad days, she’s unsympathetic and her own worst enemy at times, but for me, it was really important to realize that she’s not a hero. She’s someone like everybody, who has to go through these steps in life and figure out what it is that makes you happy and content.” On what draws her to characters as such, Cassavetes asserts that “you spend so much of your life trying to be perfect at the beginning of your life —everything’s  “perfect” as everything’s completely falling apart and you’re making huge, bad decisions. I was just looking for someone who’s a well rounded person, who gets some things and doesn’t get others, who’s forgotten things, who is codependent but also self-reliant as a working person. None of us are just one thing, and I just wanted to show that. Why should we be doing a tap dance at the worst time of our life? It’s a shitty time in her life and she’s struggling, and when we struggle, it’s not pretty but that’s not all we do, either. We’re humans —we’re resilient.”

In comparing the leads of “Broken English” and “Day Out of Days,” Cassavetes says that in many ways “it’s the journey 10 years later.” Whereas Nora (Parker Posey) of the former film is worrying about defining herself through love and marriage, Mia is reckoning with what to do “when all that seems to pass you by.” Cassavetes says that for this protagonist if kids and marriage aren’t in the picture, she “better goddamn well have the best career on the planet.” The question becomes one of balance in a world that seems too busy. As to whether she worried about an unsympathetic protagonist, Cassavetes said “that wasn’t my worry on this. I wanted you to love her and to hate her and for you to want to shake her up and slap her and go ‘what’s happening?!’”

Ultimately, Cassavetes says that in her film she was trying to explore how Mia can win in certain ways, “but at what cost to her?” She says, “I was just trying to do things in the most, obviously not realistic, but honest emotion.” A true cinephile, (she name checks Antonioni, Fellini, classic Hollywood cinema, James Gray and Spike Jonze as filmmaking inspirations), Cassavetes says that she wants in watching films, a “to see something that I can relate to or understand.”

In her interpretation of Mia’s journey, which is left to ambiguous ends, she said “it’s more about: can she accept who she is? Can she gain some power in her own life by making some decisions?” Cassavetes speaks to Mia’s feelings as the film ends, stating “it’s almost a relief that she doesn’t have to be a burden to herself as much anymore. You can take yourself really seriously, and it just it heightens every bad experience you can have. Sometimes it’s an ‘aha moment,’ or a series of events, just where you’re just like ‘you know what, fuck it.’ It doesn’t solve all your problems in the world, but at least you’re not the most uptight person in the world who can’t get possibly get anything done because you’re your own worst enemy.”

Speaking about what it’s like to get films such as this one made, Cassavetes mentions the state of the industry, and how hard it was to get her second feature off the ground. “I was trying to get another movie made, it was hard to get made, and now I’m going to try again,” she said, adding: “…there’s no middle class of filmmaking anymore. There’s just micro budgets or insane budgets. I’m in Paris and I was watching a French romantic comedy last night, and I just found myself enjoying it and I thought, Oh my God, there’s no romantic comedies anymore. There’s no thrillers, there’s very little sort of in the way of a mid feature that deals with some sort of emotion.”

Cassavetes asserts that “there’s a huge audience for that.” But she also says that “the business is strange and it shifts from moment to moment. This is what is in style right now, and hopefully it will change because people can’t sustain a life making films with these micro budgets, unless you’re independently wealthy, which would be lovely. But for people like us making these smaller movies, it’s because we want to. We don’t make them for the money —we make them because we need to tell a story and have that kind of camaraderie.” With the constantly shifting terrain of Hollywood, with different digital platforms becoming more viable, there are new opportunities, but she says that  “I don’t think the dust has quite settled yet.”

Cassavetes is still improving her own filmmaking process, with each movie amounting to a collaborative experience with those she works with. “…it’s kind of like studying for exams: you cram and then you let it all go,” she explains. “At a certain point, you’ve spent all this time with the script, it’s your vision, and you’re playing every part in your head. But at a certain point, you have to give it to people. You have to release a lot of these preconceived notions —you have them so you can direct them—but let actors do their job and they come up with these things, and you say yes or say no, and you come up with these characters together…you kind of let it play out in front of you.”

“Day Out Of Days” doesn’t have a release date yet, but keep your eye out.

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