Dakota Johnson was just looking for a break from her “darker” roles, but she was hard-pressed to find one.
Following “Suspiria,” “Our Friend,” and “The Lost Daughter,” Johnson was hoping for a project with “levity and fun and playfulness,” she told IndieWire’s Managing Editor Christian Blauvelt at the IndieWire Studio at Sundance 2022, sponsored by Adobe.
Buddy comedy coming out story “Am I OK?” seemed like the perfect fit, thanks to Johnson’s “favorite comedian” Tig Notaro, making her feature directorial debut alongside partner Stephanie Allynne.
“I met Tig because she did a surprise standup set at my birthday party for my 30th birthday,” Johnson explained. “And then we became friends, and Tig and Lauren sent me the script [by Lauren Pomerantz].
And then came COVID-19.
That light and playful set was instead marred by strict pandemic precautions that Johnson joked put a damper on the intimacy of Pomerantz’s semi-autobiographical story of two friends who grapple with their respective newfound sexual identities.
“We were just on set with masks and shields on and being yelled at if we were standing too close to each other by the COVID police,” Johnson recalled. “It was honestly really, really silly.”
Johnson portrays the fictional version of screenwriter Pomerantz, while actor Sonoya Mizuno takes on the role of Pomerantz’s best friend Jane, based on Gloria Sanchez Productions founder Jessica Elbaum, who is also a producer on the film. Jermaine Fowler also co-stars.
“I made Sonoya dinner once [before lockdowns],” Johnson continued. “It just makes things more difficult, but I think we just bonded over it being more difficult.”
The production also particularly added to the comedy behind-the-scenes.
“We’d be super cuddly and in bed together in a scene and then they’d yell ‘cut’ between takes, we’d have to put on masks and shields,” Johnson joked of her “plastic bib” during the pandemic. “It doesn’t make any actual logical sense.”
Director Notaro deadpanned, “It caught all of our lunch. You do what you have to do.”
As Pomerantz explained, even just her very personal story being told to the world is enough to make her second guess it at times. “It’s got a lot of real-life events, real-life tears, it’s wild,” Pomerantz said. “It’s something that I just buried real, real deep down and didn’t want to talk about. When I came out, I realized that is the story I want to tell: one that shows it can take a while to figure out who you really are, and to admit who you really are. I think that was the hardest part for me because I think I knew, I just didn’t want it to be true for a while. When I finally admitted it to myself, it was a lot easier to tap into it and write about it, which I never thought I would do.”
She added, “The idea of it being a movie now where it’s all out there, I can’t believe it. I didn’t think it through.”
Presenting sponsor Adobe — with a mission to enable creativity for all — is committed to supporting, elevating and amplifying underrepresented creators, so the world can see, learn and benefit from diverse perspectives. Learn more at Adobe.com Diverse Voices. The upcoming 2022 festival marks the fifth consecutive year IndieWire and Adobe have joined forces for the IndieWire Studio at Sundance.