[Editor’s Note: The following interview contains spoilers for “Losing Alice,” including the end.]
When filming the second-to-last episode of “Losing Alice,” writer-director Sigal Avin faced a challenge. Not only did the episode feature an extended sequence that required emotional vulnerability from everyone involved, but also in that moment Avin was a director directing a fictional director directing.
Buried within an incredibly focused and layered enterprise, on the most basic level possible Avin had to figure out how to differentiate herself from her filmmaker character Alice (Ayelet Zurer). Avin couldn’t even call “cut!” — that was in Alice’s dialogue, a cue for David (Gal Toren) and Sophie (Lihi Kornowski) to show their frustration.
“We had a code. I would yell ‘Chips!’ if I really wanted to cut, if it was Sigal wanting to cut the scene or just yelling ‘Cut’ so that they would know when to explode,” Avin said. “Those scenes were actually a bit of a mindfuck. It was crazy, at a certain point it was it was me with the headphones looking into the monitor and Ayelet’s there with the headphones looking at the monitor.”
Finding ways for everyone to wrap their heads around the material and become comfortable with it was something of a necessity to make “Losing Alice” the intricate show that it became. Block shooting at different locations with limited availability meant that some sequences that would ideally come after weeks of getting to build up an on-camera relationship instead came early on in the process.
“We actually ended up shooting first week in Alice and David’s bedroom. What we did was try to really trust each other and get to understand each other and get to know each other through rehearsals,” Avin said. “It’s pretty intense because you can find yourself doing the scene from Episode 2 in the bedroom and an hour after that, the breakup scene from Episode 7, and then going back to, to a scene from Episode 1, all in the bedroom. You really have to understand the tone and energy of exactly where the actors are supposed to be story-wise, without really going through it yet.”
In addition to rehearsals before going into filming, Avin had extensive conversations with performers about unpacking the blurry lines between reality and fiction that this show plays with so well. She also had ways to make sure that everyone was on the literal same page by going directly to the script’s scene descriptions.
“Ayelet and Lihi, they would like to close their eyes and listen and have me read it to them. I put a lot into the scene descriptions, because it’s also important for me, in my head,” Avin said. “The end of Episode 7, Alice comes out of the room, and she’s kind of shattered and can’t understand if she’s crying or if she’s laughing. That whole description was written in there. One of the people that was reading the scripts said that there’s no actor that will ever be able to do this. But Ayelet nailed it. I think that’s one of my most favorite scenes.”
Focusing on the words also went hand in hand with connecting emotionally with the tone of any given scene. The swirling emotions of desire, and frustration, and catharsis — and even fear — meant that zeroing in on the right combination came from the on-set atmosphere. When blocking scenes, Avin would often put on music that she felt embodied the right mixture for whatever was about to play out.
One instance where that music really connects with the scene itself is in Alice and trip to the Gaga dance class. It becomes a ballet of sorts between two characters getting closer, moving both as individuals and part of a strengthening unit. Aside from being a relief from some of the tense filming elsewhere, it was an opportunity to bring in even more of an organic feel to the performances. “Being in the hotel all day, being underground in the garage, even shooting on the boat was not easy. There was something about the dance scene that was almost like a break. That was actually how I wrote ‘Losing Alice.’ I did Gaga every morning, and then I would go to my office and write,” Avin said. “They all really did an hourlong class. I sent Lihi to a couple of classes before so that she would know where she’s going and understand it. For Ayelet, it was the first time, just like Alice. So the beautiful process that Alice goes through, and the connection between them, which is so beautifully done, is completely real because they really didn’t know what to expect.”
The “Losing Alice” finale is the culmination of plenty of visual patterns in the preceding episodes. Perhaps the clearest way is in the interplay between blue and red that weaves its way through the series. Costume choices, interior decor, even the ambulance lights as Sophie is being wheeled away, all show how these two distinct idea begin to converge.
“My DP Rotem Yaron and the gaffer Ftian Ibrahim are two brilliant partners. There was a lot of thought put into that,” Avin said. “I remember after the second day of shooting, I called Rotem and said, ‘We’re not going far enough.’ There was this decision to go with a vision and Rotem completely understood. We went all the way without fear with the red and blues, giving each character their color. Alice is very blue and as the story unfolds, she gets more and more of the red, Sophie’s red, until it all blurs both colors at the end.”
That red is at its most unavoidable in the ending scene of the finale, with Alice back in that familiar train environment. This time, she’s talking with the elusive Naomi, the possible real-life inspiration for Sophie’s script. To the viewer, there are plenty of ways to absorb this last interaction. Is this Alice’s guilt manifesting some justification for making the film knowing that it would put people in danger? Are these the mid-coma thoughts of a dying Sophie? Or is this all another cosmic coincidence in the evolution of one woman’s life and career?
Avin said that regardless of how she conceived of what’s really happening in that last train moment, she never approached that or any other “Losing Alice” scene intending to make an obvious dream or fantasy sequence. (A great example is the white dresses scene that helps kick off the episode before a hard cut to a mirror shows that Sophie isn’t actually there.) It was about finding the reality in every interaction.
“I think that’s part of the strength of it. That’s kind of how everything feels like you’re not sure what’s going on. Is this the movie? Is this a dream? Is this reality? Everything was shot as if it’s happening,” Avin said.
If “Losing Alice” gives the audience that freedom of interpretation, there were points where the same was true for Avin herself. She and editor Yael Hersonski spent the better part of a year editing the series, much of it mid-pandemic, laying out the intertwining timelines and fictional levels the way they’d been constructed at the script stage. Those many winding roads lead to a final image of Sophie opening her eyes, leaving the audience to wonder what exactly has been awoken. It’s a parting idea that, for Avin, was inevitable.
“It was always the ending, but there were a few different options,” Avin said. “Sophie in a way is the symbol of art or a muse, all those things that I have in my head. I needed her to end like that, to open.”
“Losing Alice” is now available to stream in its entirety on Apple TV+.