A little bit uncomfortable in his armchair and quite obviously neurotic, Charlie McDowell may have been overshadowed by Mark Duplass, the star of his film The One I Love, but there was something to Duplass’ confidence in the man that made him stand taller, that made his shoulders broaden. For a first time director, working with established talent like Duplass, Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men) and Ted Danson is not always an easy task, especially for a piece as minimalist and ambitious as The One I Love and yet McDowell managed to massage all the limited resources at his command to his complete and total advantage, delivering one of the most surprise hits of the year.
I spoke with Charlie about working with Mark and Elizabeth and how their confidence in him kept things running smooth. And though our conversation was brief, it gave a glimpse into the mind of a might-be auteur filmmaker. One thing is clear, The One I Love is a must-see and I can’t wait to see what he delivers next.
Charlie, I really like the minimalism that you work with on this set. You’re really only working with two people. Danson’s got a scene but it’s all about Mark and Elizabeth. Did you end up running into any issues where you were like, “Wow, this is actually a lot more challenging just working with only these two people?”
Charlie McDowell: I think we really thought about that before making the movie, so it wasn’t something where we got on set are were like, “Shit…” But it was a mixture of a bunch of things. A lot of discussions between Mark and Lizzy about character stuff and sort of where they go and how they arc. And then for me, the visual side to it, the property, I sort of viewed as its own character and really treated it that way. I made sure I had a visual plan of how this film arced visually. It was always a concern of how do we keep the audience’s attention and keep them moving forward and trying to figure out what’s going on. As long as we were all aware of that in the plotting standpoint and the character standpoint then we felt pretty good about where we were going with it.
When you were doing scenes that involve two Marks or two Elizabeths, were you shooting that with extras and then you would go in and fill it in?
CM: [Redacted] … For a fairly low-budget movie we had a shit-ton of effects.
Tell me what it was like working with the both Elizabeth and Mark?
CM: We were incredibly lucky to have Lizzy, especially for me as a first-time director. To have both Lizzy and Mark as two of the most collaborative, giving people, I was just so lucky and blessed to have them as my team. Specifically Lizzy, it was really funny— she was down to play games and have fun with the crew and laugh— and then the second I yelled “Action” it was like- [claps] – snapped right into the character. It was almost sort of jarring for me because, I almost wasn’t prepared. I couldn’t snap in as a director quick enough. We were laughing and joking and then we were rolling and “Action” and just zones in and those big blue eyes. “Oh my god.” She’s been doing it for a while and she just has that organic, natural, God-given talent.