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Out in Theaters: LAMB

Director, screenwriter and star Ross Partridge unearths a ripe splintering of soul in the fragile, complex love story that is Lamb. Adapted from Bonnie Nadzam‘s sage but harrowing novel of redemption and temptation, Patridge repurposes the byzantine dynamic of Nadzam’s words to co-exist in the cinematic crossroads of nail-ruining suspense and earnest, didactic sentiments of humanity, all the while subtly wedging in thematic elements of Vladimir Nabokov’s will-they-or-won’t-they statutory misgivings. Read More

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Winter 2016 Movie Preview – 16 Movies We’re Willing To Give the Benefit of the Doubt

We’ve written about the best films of 2015. We’ve written about the worst. And then, it was over. And so came “that” time of year. “That” time of year where the hits of 2015 continue to dominate the box office. Where awards contenders pile back into theaters. Where Star Wars makes another billion dollars. And, most importantly, where new releases are synonymous with shite. Hello 2016 movies. The dumping ground is right over here. Read More

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10 Best Movies of 2015 So Far

For the casual film-goer, 2015 has started off on relative slow footing. Dumping ground months January and February held few critical or commercial surprise hits – outside of one release featured on this rundown – with anything of worth reserved for festival-going audiences. Barring the outrageous international money-vacuum that is Furious 7, Summer 2015 has proved a touch disappointing with expected giants such as Avengers: Age of Ultron landing softer than anticipation (while still claiming the second biggest opening weekend ever) and big franchise resets like Terminator: Genisys and Jurassic World waiting in the wings with big question marks (and budgets) hanging over their heads. Read More

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Talking With Ross Partridge of LAMB

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One of the most interesting, complex films of SXSW 2015 to date is Ross Partridge‘s Lamb. With the film, Partridge subverts our psychological expectations, flipping a difficult concept on its head and bleeding it for all its unsettling, deep dramatic worth. From our review:

Not one to worry about getting too literal with their metaphors, Partridge frames the eponymous Lamb as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A predator preying upon the trust of an 11-year old, Lamb’s intentions are shape-shifting and piercingly hazy. On the one hand, Lamb seems like a man of good intent and could just be seizing the opportunity to shape the maturing innocence of a neglected child. In his own words, he just wants to show her something beautiful. On the other hand, ew. That sentence alone is enough to conjure up all the yucky sentiments of 45-on-11-year old action. We instinctually associate any relationship between a middle-aged male and a twig-framed girl with a very particular (read: vile) expectation. When he reaches out to brush hair out of her face, you cringe. Even if the gesture itself might be innocent. In Lamb‘s purgatory of good sense and bad taste, we never know exactly we should feel but that rarely stops us from feeling a whole damn lot. (Full review here)

I had the chance to sit down with Ross and really dive into the tender meat of Lamb. Though I would caution you to seek out the film and consume all its juiciness for yourself before diving too deep down our rabbit hole, this is still a fitting avenue to familiarize yourself with the man and his work.

 

 

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There’s so much going on here – it’s so complex. The material is so delicate, and so fragile, that the slightest miscalculation in performance or directorial choice would have really made this house of crumble.

RP: Yeah, for sure.

How do you approach the tone, in each and every scene? How did you make it out of this balancing act?

RP: I think, early on we knew the challenges of it. I knew that I had to be patient, and I had to allow myself the truth of each scene, and not worry about appeasing. Not try to think about what’s entertaining,. It wasn’t going to try and be, certainly, seducing in any way. Really, my whole goal with it was to not get in the way of the story from the beginning. I read this book, and I adapted it, and I was like, “If I can just not put an imprint on it in a way where you can feel my involvement,” which is obviously so big, as a director and a writer and an actor. But I just wanted to tell the story as simply, and as quietly, as possible so that people can feel it on their own. I wanted to make it as intimate as possible. Tone wise, it was just a process. I was always trying to think about other characters, and my character, as subtly as possible. To take my performance levels down and not try and push anything.

It’s funny that you say that you want to get out of the way of the material, because in a sense, that is the approach, but on the other hand, without the finesse that you bring to the directorial chair, this whole thing just falls apart. Because you directed it, you wrote it, you starred in it, how much of a mindfuck is taking on all of these roles on this one project, especially on a project that is, as I said, as fragile and delicate as this is?

RP: I sometimes don’t know but I think that’s the key. There’s very few experiences you have as an actor, and as a director, or just being in this business in any rung, that is blind faith. And you read something, you read a piece of material where, for the first time in my life, when I read this, I had no fear. At all. I contemplated how it would land with people but my desire to want to do this, and take this risk, were so strong. That had never happened to me. I’m not that kind of person. I don’t make decisions very quickly, except for on this, when I was directing. It all became very clear, and it was very certain all the time. So I think sometimes you just have to give up to that. In life, sometimes there’s things you give up to. There’s an instinct that you’re supposed to be doing exactly what you’re doing, right in this moment. I just kind of held on to it, to try and make it and to try and keep clear of that.

So both yourself and Oona are just phenomenal in the film, and so much of the movie rides on these performances. She blew me away!

RP: Can we talk about her forever?

Can we?

RP: For real.

I know that she won a Tony, and she was nominated for a Grammy at 10 years old. Is that basically where you found her?

RP: Yeah. The casting director was never like, “You have to meet this person; she won a Tony and was nominated for a Grammy.” The casting director – Alison Esher – she’s from New York, she’s known me for years. We have a great relationship. In the pursuit of casting this, we knew that if we didn’t have the right Tommy, we would never do it.

Oh, totally! It falls apart.

RP: So it’s like, “Okay, let’s start the process.” Alison, early on, said it wouldn’t be that difficult. “What do you mean, it’s not that difficult.” You hear about people searching for years. She said, ‘It’s not going to be that hard. There’s only about five girls who actually, probably can do this role. And you’ll know.” I think that makes me feel better – I’m not sure. We saw a lot of girls, and there were a few that I walked into the room, and I met Oona, and as soon as I walked in, she had these little glasses on, she was kind of in her own little world. She was like, “Hi, how are you?” Just was non-phased about everything. I just looked at her, and she was this young girl who was so much an individual, and confident in who she is, and was so unique an individual at 11-years old. It’s infectious.

So, at some point did you kind of sit her down and go, “Look, this is a really delicate role, and we’re playing with some really culturally touchy issues”? Was that a conversation you had with her parents, or with her, and how did that go?

RP: I felt like I was going to have to have that conversation, and that was a worry of mine, but it never happened, in the sense that it didn’t have to happen. Oona, we don’t give enough credit to kids, and how intelligent they can be. She got this right away. She totally got this. And there were other families who, the parents of other kids, who understood the compassion and the empathy we were trying to go after. I thought I was going to have to do the sales job, and really talk to them about why I was doing this, and what my intentions were. Oona’s mother had read the script, she was in Chicago – one of her other daughters was working on a movie – and Oona wasn’t going to audition because she was so busy. She was in school – she could have done after-school stuff. She could have cared less. Her mom read the script, and called her husband, and said, “You have to get Oona to this audition. She has to play this part.” I met them as we were considering – we sat and had lunch. We talked about everything other than that, because they were like, “We get this. And she gets this. We would be so thrilled to have her on this, and she gets exactly what it’s about. She really wants to do this.” The irony is that we cast her, and two days later, she got a call from Harvey Weinstein, who basically offered her the lead in Anton Fuqua’s movie ‘Southpaw’ that’s coming out with Jake Gyllenhaal. And there was actually a moment where our schedule… where we thought we might lose her. But Oona’s like, “I’m doing both movies. I’m not not doing them.”..The performance is just phenomenal. As I mentioned in my review, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her pick up a Supporting Actress nomination, even though she’s very much a lead here.

RP: Anything that comes her way, I think, is well deserved. We were constantly.impressed. On day two, we shot the end of the movie – the last scene in the movie, which is such an emotionally charged end. Her second take, even the boom operator was crying. We were all crying. You could hear people being emotional and we were like, “This is something so rare to see.”

On day two?

RP: On day two. From that moment, everyone was just so supportive, and knew there was something special in this girl, in this performance, and in this story. It was a real collective effort. Everyone from my producers Nell Eslen, who really took charge of this whole thing. Jenn, and Taylor Williams, who has the balls to fund a movie like this. I can’t give enough credit to someone like him, who says, “You know what? I see this. I want to be a part of something like this. It’s different. It’s unique. How many opportunities do you get to do that?”

We’re giving a lot of credit to Oona, as we should, but her performance really pivots on yours. And you are just so perfectly disorienting in the role. There’s just scene after scene where I’m literally just standing on the edge of my seat, biting my nails, like, “Oh God, he’s reaching out to touch her. Don’t do anything weird! Please don’t do anything weird.” You play that so perfectly. There’s just this fine line that you’re riding and threading the needle so carefully. For you, from a performance perspective, is this something you could define as a pinnacle in your career?

RP: I don’t really have any control over that. I know it was a huge opportunity when I read it. I was like, “Wow, this is such a complex character.” The main reason I wanted to play it so badly was not, “Oh, this is going to be an amazing career thing.” It’s just that I knew that in order to tell this story, the intimacy the actor would have to have with girl would be so monumental. I don’t think I could have translated that while working with another actor, while having the energy, and the dichotomy between that. I had to make sure it was right and that’s just one more step in making sure that those two actors actually get along, and that I have the trust between them. It was like instead of having a straight line, it would have been a triangle. And, ultimately, when playing the character, all the other stuff, the fine line and the tension that were there, I had to trust that all of that stuff would take care of itself, and that I always had to come at the character from a place of love. And that every action and everything that he did and said was really genuine, and for the best intentions, and for the best reasons. Sometimes that’s the way human beings are – I think they come from a place of goodness. The nurturing gets caught in the way of that.

And you don’t know where to direct that love in many circumstances. I think one of the many interesting dichotomies of the film is just what audiences bring to the film, our abject biases, right? You see a young girl and a forty-five year old guy traveling cross country, alarms are going off all over the place. In most every case, as they rightfully should. For how culturally unacceptable this relationship is, there is a thing of beauty and grace to it. Talk about what that is.

RP: I obviously agree with you. I think there is. We can go to movies all the time, and we can make moral judgements on less things, or we don’t make moral judgements on other things. People spend fifteen dollars and watch people mindlessly kill one another. And then all of a sudden, this becomes a huge thing. THAT becomes entertainment to us. Nobody questions that anymore, at all. And so, I find it ironic when people are so pissed and up in arms about this. It’s like, these are human emotions, and people are frail and people make mistakes. And yet, where does our empathy lie, and how far will we go? And how will we actually cure the ills of our past or the ills of our future, if we can’t find a little more empathy in the world, and try and really understand, instead of immediately judging. To watch people just kill each other, I don’t go to those movies because I just get nothing out of them. That’s where we are, as a society. That’s become okay but a relationship that’s built on complexity, and you can’t really define what it is, that is less easy to see. People want to say, “He’s a monster,” or “He’s disgusting.” It’s not there. People want it to be. It’s like a Rorscach test.

And that’s where this movie thrives. It’s these expectations… you saddle up to them, you look over the edge, but you never cross that precipice, and that’s what makes it so fascinating and so interesting.

RP: Yeah. People have mostly agreed. We were testing it all along. It’s exciting that people are seeing the movie the way you’ve seen in. The story within is actually far more satiating than the confines of our own judgements, at this point. People are excited to be questioned, and they’re excited to feel something they can’t idenitfy. That becomes a new experience. Hopefully, it’s worthwhile.

And that, again, is another reason why this film is such a breath of fresh air. It takes you in these directions that you don’t anticipate and that comes down to the source material. I haven’t read the book, but I plan to – I’m so intrigued, and I’m so compelled to read it now. Can you talk about it. I read in the press notes that you were immediately like, “This has to be turned into a movie.” But what was that thought process and the process of it becoming a film and also some challenges that you didn’t anticipate?

RP: Right. Well, when I read the book, I immediately knew that I wanted to make the film. The rights weren’t available – a very well-known actor had the rights before me, and he was trying to develop it before me.

Really? Can you say who?

RP: He’s one of my favorites. I love him as an actor, too. Kyle Chandler had the movie rights. I think it’s okay to say. He was so busy, and he and his wife were going to team up on how to do this thing, but his schedule got crazy. He and the author are still friends, and it was a real honor to have him there. I just wanted to make it, and the challenges of it were the poetry of it. The language of David Lamb is what I wanted to hold on to as much as possible, because I felt that the heightened language he spoke in was so reminiscent of his heightened belief in who he can become. Somebody other than himself, somebody completely otherworldly, because he’s so stuck in this banal world of bleakness. He wants to believe in something better and more beautiful. Keeping that language was going to be tricky. I said this before; the first two-thirds of the movie made sense to me, in the book, but the ending, the climax of this film is a very psychological climax. It’s not action based, it’s more of an emotional peak. So, how do I make that as intriguing as possible? Ultimately, it was a feeling of relief, obviously. That would be climactic enough, keeping the tension and the stress of trying to figure this out. And then, finally, we start releasing. We give it in a way that offers some hope, in a very strange way. All the things that you want to think this person is, he doesn’t turn out to be. You don’t get that feeling, “Oh, I knew he’s going to do this.” Actually, you get just the opposite. You have to question everything about this character, because he’s just the opposite.

It’s funny that you mention the third act, and this idea of release, because, for me, I felt like until the very last frame of the movie, I didn’t let out a breath of air. Because you’re still so much on edge, even until that very final moment! Even then, fade to black, and you just have to process it. It was a film that I sat there for 10 minutes afterwards, dissecting in my head how I felt about it. That’s an unfortunately rare experience in this industry – where you actually have to think after a movie.

RP: There’s a moment in the credits, where’s there an extended period of black, before the first credits come up. The credit is the directing credit. It wasn’t like I wanted to keep it in black the whole time, but I felt like I didn’t want to put names on the screen right away. I felt like people would really be effected, hopefully, and wanted to give it as much time as we possibly could, where they could just be a little bit neutral for a little while, listening to this beautiful song by Angel Olson, a spectactual song. It was almost like, if you could just sneak the credits in, on the side, people are not going to be in the frame of mind to just start reading credits.

Also, going off the end of it, one thing I couldn’t stop think about was, what are the implifications and the ramifications of the events in this film? I just wonder where is she five years down the line? Where is he, ten years down the line? Is this something that crossed your mind?

RP: Oh, of course. Actually, the last day of rehearsal with Oona, we rehearsed together for about a week in New York – my last question to her, before we actually would have seen each other later in Wyoming, was, “I just want to know what you think.” The characters dropped off in the end, and you say goodbye. Where do you go? And she literally, without a beat, said, “I go home, and I tell my parents that I ran away for a while. And then I go into my room. I probably take a shower. And then I go about my life.” And I’m like, “Do you tell anybody what happened?” And she says, “No. Because he gave me something that I think is going to be a gift. It’s going to help me.” So that was the hope. To hear it from an 11-year old girl, at the time that we’re making the movie, that that’s how she assessed it, I was like, “If an 11 year old can understand this so clearly, then hopefully everyone else can.”

Then there’s hope for the rest of the world.

RP: You would think. My character, I believe, this is the one opportunity to make a lasting imprint on something, on somebody, before his demise. I’m not so hopeful for Lamb, I’m not so hopeful for his outcome. I know that there’s a moment in it, for him, like he always does – that’s he’s so conflicted about it, like he’s this awful person or beast, but yet, he’ll smile, once or twice, in memory of what she gave him, and what he gave her, and maybe that might make some sort of difference in his life, if it continues, at all.

That’s one of the things that’s interesting about Lamb as a character, is his acute awareness of who their situation could be interpreted, and you see that played out in so many moments, particularly in the moment when the girlfriend…

RP: Lydia.

Yes, arrives in a cab. And you’re like, “Oh no! This is going to be a disaster!” And it kind of is a disaster. That’s another thing where I’m like, “What happens there? What does she do with that information?” But I think, for him, there is a semblance of a spiritual rejuvenation, in his ability to give his love away, in a very pure, almost non-reciprocating way. He’s not doing it to gain something, necessarily.

RP: I don’t think he’s capable of gaining. I think that he wishes he was capable of gaining love he could have received; from his dad; from his mother, who split…

From his wife…

RP: From his wife. From his younger brother. Here’s a guy who’s just so damaged. It’s just too painful when someone says to him, “I want to love you. I want to care for you.” He doesn’t think that he deserves it and he’s probably very angry, and he doesn’t understand how he’s capable of being loved. And if people put that on him, he doesn’t respect them. “Why would they want to do that?” That’s not the right thing. It’s really sad.  There’s a part of the movie, that’s always one of my favorite parts, when he’s out with Tommie, and he’s talking with her while his girlfriend is there, and he says, “Do you promise me that you will always call me Gary?” Which is not his name, which is the person he would do anything to be, to be anybody other than who he is. That’s really hard – it’s heartbreaking.

I guess, kind of in conclusion here, where are you headed to next? Are you planning on directing another feature?

RP: Yeah. We just literally finished, so I’m planning on doing another feature, sooner rather than later.

Behind the camera?

RP: Behind the camera. The next one, I’m not sure I’ll be acting in. I don’t feel the necessity to be acting in all of the movies. And, in fact, one of my favorite experiences on this shoot was when I just got to direct, with Scoot and Mary and Lindsay Pulsipher and other people who are in scenes. That will be, definitely, the trajectory – to find another great piece of material, whether I write something or not. We’ll be touring this around for some time, I’m sure.

Where are you headed to next?

RP: We’re not sure. We have a few festivals that are reaching out, and we’re just kind of still just here at the premiere stage. We’re hoping to get it in as many places as possible.

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SXSW Review: LAMB

Director, screenwriter and star Ross Partridge unearths a ripe splintering of soul in the fragile, complex love story that is Lamb. Adapted from Bonnie Nadzam‘s sage but harrowing novel of redemption and temptation, Patridge repurposes the byzantine dynamic of Nadzam’s words to co-exist in the cinematic crossroads of nail-ruining suspense and earnest, didactic sentiments of humanity, all the while subtly wedging in thematic elements of Vladimir Nabokov’s will-they-or-won’t-they statutory misgivings. Read More