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Interview: Run and Jump Director Steph Green on Families in Flux and Discovering Will Forte’s Dramatic Side

Interview: Run and Jump Director Steph Green on Families in Flux and Discovering Will Forte's Dramatic Side

The January doldrums are over. The first great movie of 2014 has arrived: Oscar-nominated director Steph Green’s Run and Jump, her feature debut. 

Run and Jump centers on an Irish woman named Vanetia (an astounding Maxine Peake) whose husband suffers a catastrophic stroke. The film explores her feelings of guilt, hope, and longing as she finds herself reluctantly attracted to her husband’s buttoned-up medical observer (Will Forte). In my Los Angeles Times review, I called the film “sensitive, expected, yet visionary, [and] shot with a magnificent play of color and light that makes the characters’ corner of the world seem like the cradle of compassion.” Run and Jump opens in theaters and VOD today. (If you have the chance to see it in the theaters, though, you should — the cinematography deserves to be marveled at.)

Green talked to Women and Hollywood (by email) about the complicated romance at the heart of her film, how the Irish setting enhances the storyline, and how she discovered Will Forte’s dramatic side before Nebraska director Alexander Payne did. 

What drew you to Alibhe Keogan’s script?

The script is a unique look at a family in flux and the fluidity of personality. I appreciated that the original writer [Keogan] had personal experience with brain injury and personality shifts. Her father suffered a brain injury that altered his personality, so she watched her mother and family cope with this change — the “old and new” versions of Dad.

It helped her write an emotionally truthful script with an exceptional female protagonist, which was a great starting point. I loved the nuanced and unconventional love triangle, if we even want to call it that. It’s a simple story filled with complex dynamics, and that drew me in. I love casting, and these characters were great to exercise those muscles. I felt I could enhance the script as co-writer — we were co-writers on the finished script — and bring subtle, elegant performances to the screen. 

To what extent does the (very beautiful) Irish setting matter? 

[Keogan] grounded her vision in her surroundings and had life
experiences relevant to the script in the Kerry countryside, where she is based. [The film is] informed by Irish sensibilities of
storytelling: grit over glam, and humor during tragic circumstances. [Peake’s character] Vanetia has always felt like a very Irish
character. Because it’s about family, it
could have been set in many other countries, but would have very different
cultural influences.

Vanetia is both an extraordinary and ordinary
woman. How did you strike the balance between those two poles?


She is
exactly that. She has depth and can be
extremely mournful and serious, but also has a tireless, youthful vitality in
her. She’s like so many women I know in
this way. It was just a matter of
letting the character breathe and not limiting what she was capable of
feeling, paying attention to degrees
instead of broad signifiers of mood.  

Maxine responded to the character in part because Vanetia never feels
sorry for herself. She gets on with
life, even though it’s a rollercoaster. She looks for laughter and doesn’t take
herself too seriously. Sometimes it’s
denial, sometimes it’s coping. But
mostly, it’s necessity.

Maxine Peake is extraordinarily charming in the film. How was she cast?

I brought
a list of Irish and English actresses to a brilliant English casting director, Leo Davis, who pointed at Maxine’s photo and told me I should meet her. A few weeks later, I sat across from Maxine at
our first meeting and knew I was sitting across from Vanetia. Beautiful,
brave, vulnerable, real — everything Maxine
does is good.

How did you end up casting Will Forte as Ted Fielding, Vanetia’s shy romantic partner

I was investigating a long list of actors, and I kept coming back to Will’s name. I was intrigued by the thought of him in the role. I had a strong instinct Will could play Dr. Fielding beautifully. This was the year before Nebraska. A talented UTA agent, Jo Yao, helped me get Will the script, and luckily he agreed to meet. I had to convince him he could do it because he wasn’t sure. He loved the script but admitted he was nervous about the role. People who work in performance extremes are interesting to me. Will can be 150 percent goofy. He can also be 150 percent restrained. Which is what I needed for this movie.  

How would you describe the theme of family as it’s played out in the film? 

The movie observes change, resilience and growth, and how being truly seen and acknowledged by another person contributes to these developments in the human character. I think these themes are familiar. Vanetia is conflicted, then accepting. [Straight-laced] Ted is opened up. [Stroke victim] Lenny finds his voice. The storytelling is unique in its sincerity and subtlety, and it’s grounded in a female perspective, which is all too rare.  

Though it may be less familiar to some, the observational, unconventional structure and stillness needed to enjoy certain sequences is something I hope audiences find refreshing.

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