Alex Moreland chats with Easy Living star Caroline Dhavernas…
So, first of all, I was going to ask how you came to be involved with Easy Living?
Well, I received the script through my agency, I sent the script to my agents. I read it, I loved it. And then we had a Skype meeting and discussed the script for a little while, and then I accepted because I thought it was such a great female part. And that’s how it happened.
What was it that attracted you to the role?
Well I love kinda messy and crazy characters and I don’t get to play them as often as I would like. And she’s definitely one of those. I thought the writing was really interesting and fun and although it was a very small budget, we had the freedom to, you know, take our time with it and improv and I love that Adam [Adam Keleman, the director] wanted to start with improv. I don’t know if you know this but we started by shooting the door-to-door scene, which were completely improvised. Which was really fun, because I got to know my character before doing the actual scenes that were scripted. And he would, you know, open the doors and shoot in the houses with them. It was just a really cool way of starting the project and getting to know each other and the character and all that.
And, yeah, we shot in all five boroughs and it was nice to – I had an apartment here for about 13 years, but there are parts of the city that I never saw the way that I saw them with the movie. So that was really cool as well. And, I don’t know I think she’s such a lovely and weird and fascinating character to play, and also when I watched the movie I was interested in seeing how she was gonna evolve and what she’s gonna do. I’m very, very happy with the movie, and I’m proud of Adam. I think he took risks, and not many people have, um, evolved to do that, and he certainly did. Very proud of him.
As you were saying there, Sherry’s quite a messy and self-destructive character; I was wondering if, ultimately, the film is critical of her in the end?
Not really. I think you can be in you want, but no, I think the movie is without judgement. Um, Adam also never tried to make her understand something. I used to think she was very liberated at the end, which she is in a way, but I don’t think she’s learned much, and the directors not pointing a finger at her in any way, I don’t find. Did you find that?
Not exactly, though I did wonder if we should be. But I guess this kind of leads into my next question. Do you think that she has a happy ending at the end?
Um, I guess in her mind it can be a happy ending, because she’s morally – she’s not there, she’s so narcissistic, kind of wounded so she can’t see what the other person is going through, what he is, and how she’s taking advantage of him. And God knows what she’s gonna do with that money, I mean, it’s interesting because there’s so many possibilities. She could maybe will run away with it, she might start that salon and probably fail miserably. We have no idea, is she gonna give it to her sister so that Alice can have some money, you know? There’s no way of knowing if this is gonna be a happy ending. It’s hard to believe that she will, because she hasn’t really learnt anything. I think she’s gonna continue to make messy decisions and go about her own way.
Again picking up on the way you described her then – narcissistic and so on – how important do you think it is for a film to have a ‘likable’ protagonist, as it were?
It’s funny, because we often talk about ‘Will the character be likable?’. I don’t think it’s important for a character to be likable. I think people want the drive, actually, to see someone who’s behaving in a way that they cannot allow themselves to behave, as an audience. I think that’s where we throw all of our – It’s like a bit of a fantasy sometimes, to see a character be rude, be bold, to not have to be polite, it’s so fun, I think we kind of fantasise about being allowed to be that way, sometimes.
So, I think she is likable because we feel for her somehow, but she’s not likable in the actions of what she’s doing, you know. A lot of what she does can be kind of condemned, I suppose, by some. So, I never really thought about that, actually, when I was shooting a movie. I thought about it for other characters but I think she’s like a child really, so I think that’s where we kind of forgive, I guess. She’s clearly a very wounded person, and I think that’s part of where our forgiveness comes from.
Obviously, with the character, there are wounds, and there’s a history there. There’s also, left implicit across the film, her history with her family and so on. When you were playing the role, did you have the backstory worked out in your head?
No, we never really know much about her. Little things come out about her over the movie. Adam and I talked about it a little bit, but not that much. I didn’t wanna have a very specific background set for her. It come out in the improv scenes with the true women in the beginning about how her mom died and how her father was probably taking care of them and how her sister mostly took care of her. But you don’t know what she’s saying, how true it is, that her father took good care of her. It’s all made up in that improv. And I hadn’t really thought anything through, it all just kind of came out naturally. Which I thought was interesting, because the ladies there improved that moment, they asked me about my family.
I love how those moments of improv really kind of added to the movie and we took about a week after shooting those scenes for Adam to think about how he wanted to incorporate what has been in the improv to the scripted scenes. At the end of the day, we didn’t really add anything, we didn’t change any of the scripted scenes because it just kind laid bare with what was there and we didn’t need to really explain where she comes from. It’s one of the things that I really love about the movie actually. That there’s no explanation all the time of why she’s behaving in a certain way, or where she comes from. I like that we feel it, we don’t have to know.
How much of your performance comes down from instinctive choices in the moment?
It’s so hard to say! [laughs] I think I usually rely on my instincts to find a part. I really, really map out precisely what I wanna do and where the character comes from, what they’ve been through. I think about it a little bit but not that much. I just, um, I don’t know, it’s really what the scene inspires me to do, and what the director feeds me on with notes and it’s hard for me to explain what I do, really.
On a different note, do you find that these indie movies offer you opportunities as an actor that mainstream projects wouldn’t necessarily?
Yeah, because, you know, even with the editing, Adam took the time, he really took a lot of time actually, to edit the movie, to see a rough version, to do things completely differently afterwards, so he took the freedom of the director because he didn’t have anyone pushing him, like a studio or a specific release date or anything like that. It was a very small crew, it was easy to move from one location to the other, I didn’t feel like we had to obey to any rules, we were just doing things our way.
And yes, that’s so fun, because we always kind of look back and think about the freedom that they had to make cinema. I often feel like it’s become such a heavy machine, that it’s hard sometimes to just do things simply, and to create. But we had that luxury, it was amazing. We didn’t have much money, which was hard, it’s always difficult to make a movie happen regardless of the budget, and when you have very little money like we had, it’s difficult. But the plus side of this is that we had freedom. It was amazing for that.
What was your working relationship like with Adam? You’re quite positive about him.
Well, you know, Adam gave me notes and all, but he wasn’t big on forcing anything. He kind of let me do my thing. We talked a little bit about it, but not all that much. What I think happened actually was before we started shooting, Adam gave me a bunch of movies to watch, to give me an idea of what his influences are. The tone of the film, the palette, the feel and everything that he loves is from the 70s. You know, Robert Oldman, and documentaries too which he was inspired by. It gave me a feel of what he wanted to do and what made his heart flutter, so that was a great help, because instead of naming everything, he just gave me an array of images to look at to help me understand what he wanted to make.
How do you think that shaped your performance and your approach to it?
I know that a lot of movies that he gave me to watch, like Three Women or Starting Over – which I talk about in the film, when I’m in bed, the tale of the character, I forget the name – but the women in those movies are very strong and free and don’t actually fit into what actresses are supposed to look like these days, so it gave me a good idea of what kind of strong female character he wanted to portray.
Do you think that your role here is markedly different from your other roles, or do you think it fits into a tradition of roles?
I don’t know if I have a tradition of roles, I try to do things differently, and not do the same thing twice, because I’ve been doing it for a long time and I don’t want to get bored with my job, it’s not supposed to be a boring job. And so, yeah, I just try to go where my heart tells me to go, and this one was it. I’d never done an indie movie in America before, I’d done plenty of them in Quebec and Canada, so it was a great opportunity. And, um, yeah, I mean I love roles that, like I said before, are challenging and risky and crazy characters. I hadn’t played one of them in a long time so she was perfect.
What were some of the challenges of this movie? Did anything stand out particularly?
Um…hm. I guess sometimes I wasn’t quite sure how to play her, because she can be completely crazy, or completely…I mean, I could have chosen to play the drama a lot more but I just thought about the humour in it, but I didn’t know I was gonna play the humour as much, it just kind of happened. I thought she was gonna be a lot more troubled, I guess. But I just had that idea at first and I started playing the scenes and it just kind of took me somewhere else. I think it’s good to stay open and just go with what’s happening with the actress that you’re working with and the feel of the scene when it happens.
You spoke a moment ago about Adam’s influences, and I was wondering in the same respect, who would you say are your sort of influences as an actor?
Um, oh God it’s so hard to say. I do watch movies and TV series, but I have a lot of friends who are not in this business who watch a lot more than I do. So I always have a hard time talking about what I’m inspired by. I guess David Lynch has always been the one that I absolutely adore. I love how free he is to go places in his mind that aren’t made for everyone to understand. I love the mystery of what he does. I love how storing and nuanced the characters are. He’s so interesting because he’ll make something very mysterious and dreamy, but at the same time the characters are kind of caricatures sometimes of people. They don’t feel completely naturally. And I love that world where things collide and you don’t really know what’s happening. I just think it’s really hard too to make those things happen, because people are scared to invest money, because they think people wont get it. And we often try to make things so that people will understand, but I think it’s the wrong way to approach things. Last night at the Q&A, Adam was saying that he made the film because it was the type of film that he would want to watch, and I think it’s a brilliant way of approaching creation.
On a slightly different note again, do you have any particular advice for people who are hoping to follow in your career path?
Advice? Oof, oh my God, uh…I really don’t know [laughs] It’s hard to give advice, I’m sorry. Um…I don’t really. I wouldn’t know what to say, what kind of advice to give. The job is weird, it’s very subjective, you never know if you’re doing the right thing. I mean, I think actors doubt a lot. I think it’s part of the job. I think just to stay open as much as you can to what’s happening in the moment, you know. And that would be advice for acting. I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently, because I’m shooting a TV show, to just not fight the state that you’re in.
Every day when you arrive on set, use as much as you can, even if you had imagined something else, because having a pure state of mind gives you something very real to work with. And if you fight that state than your scene won’t be rooted as much in something real and natural. It might be a little weird. My mom’s an actress, and she always tells me as an actress that “If you’re really, really tired on set one day, and you don’t know how the hell you’re going to get through the day, maybe your character’s feeling like that today. Just use it.” It’s great advice, because it’s not advice they’ll be giving in acting school, because they don’t talk about the fact that you will be tired on set.
As a final question then, what would you most like audience members to take from Easy Living and your work in general?
I don’t think about that. They will take away from the film what they want, I don’t really have a desire for them to leave with a specific idea of the film. That belongs to them. I don’t know, in my career, they can take whatever they want. [laughs] I don’t know, I can’t think about that too much. I can’t think about how people will receive something. That belongs to them and I have no control over it. So I tend not to think about these things as much.
Caroline Dhavernas, thank you very much!
Easy Living is available on Video on Demand and iTunes from today; check out our review of the movie here.