When NeilLaBute's latest "Some Velvet Morning" premiered back at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, anticipation was muted. The acerbic playwright who made name for himself with acidic variations on the battle of the sexes (best captured in his scorching film debut "In the Company of Men"), had as of late been churning out tepid studio efforts ("Death at a Funeral," "Lakeview Terrace" and the reviled "Wicker Man" remake) that left fans of his earlier work befuddled and disappointed. Had the once wry writer-director lost his edge? As it turns out, not at all.
The stripped down and micro-budgeted "Some Velvet Morning" marks a thrilling return to his provocative films of yore. Sexually charged and almost unbearably tense, the two-hander stars Alice Eve (in a revelatory performance) as a beautiful former mistress to Fred (Stanley Tucci), who finds herself in a precarious spot when Fred shows up unannounced at her door demanding they talk.
Indiewire sat down with LaBute in New York to discuss what many are calling a return to form for the artist, and his recent forays into television. "Some Velvet Morning" is currently playing in select theaters and is available On Demand.
On what inspired "Some Velvet Morning":
I’m really not much of a theme person. I’m not one to go, "Oh I want to write about love," although love seems to be a part of this. But I rarely write that way. I think the relationship dynamic was one that interest me. How that relationship was supposed to blossom. That seemed like an interesting thing to pursue. Kind of from the beginning I knew I wanted to reverse it in the end.
On finding new ways to explore the battle of the sexes:
Some people would say that I haven’t. Some people would say I just hammer away at the same thing. People are fascinating and the possibilities are endless in terms of the couplings we find ourselves in and try to get out of.
On why he went back to basis with his latest:
I started out making a couple of movies from my own scripts and two different opportunities occurred. One was the opportunity to go back in a big way to the theater because the original things that could have been a movie, very easily went to the stage and found a home there. I was able to continue the thematic writing writing I was doing onstage uninterrupted.
At the same time, very flatteringly, a lot of offers came in, asking "What else do you want to do?" And I thought, as a director, since I have very little experience in movies (I didn’t have that kind of film school experience), I thought this is a great way to stretch yourself — see what else you could do. You get those opportunities and you either take them or leave them. I took them, sometimes successfully, sometimes less so. But I think there was a point there.
I started making some short films to just be able to control things again. I wanted to make something because I wanted to. When you make something for a little bit of money, nobody cares. I think the next step was me going, "I think i should make a movie like that again."
With "Some Velvet Morning," I had a script that, yes, could go on stage but it hasn’t. If you do make it then they would have to engage with it that way. It is a movie. It’s not a filmed play. It may feel like a play, it might as well be on stage but it is a movie. It does a thing movies do that plays don’t do sometimes. I had the desire and the means, so I was just like, that’s what I should go do.
On what prompted his surprising move to television (he wrote "Full Circle" for DirecTV, has an NBC sitcom in the works, and directed some episodes of "Hell on Wheels"):
I have embraced the idea of television wholeheartedly. I've always been a TV watcher and now I'm lucky enough to be a participant. I love the idea of writing multiple episodes or moments from a group of characters' lives and movies and plays don't really allow for that (unless you write a sequel or a trilogy, that type of thing).
Through DirecTV, I've been given a chance to play with structure ("Full Circle") and to shoot monologues in black and white, and no one is doing that in film right now in the same way.
Working for NBC is the opposite experience -- getting a chance to see if I can fit my singular voice into the known world of network television. I'm a believer in pushing yourself to do new things and that's what TV is affording me right now.
I also directed my first television series this past year -- two episodes of the Western "Hell on Wheels" -- and had an amazing time, working quickly with a brilliant cast and crew up in Alberta. Doing television makes me feel like my artistic palette has been extended tenfold.