Hugh Dancy and Rose Byrne are charmers. OK, maybe their accents have something to do with it, but the bottom line is this: These are two impressive actors who have just made an impressive film about a relatively obscure social disorder. Asperger's Syndrome limits one's ability to fit in. It makes it next to impossible to see the world through anyone else's eyes but your own, and keeps the world at a distance most of us couldn't fathom. As the title character, Dancy delivers a devastatingly honest performance as a bright young man who's enslaved by routine for fear that his entire world would cripple on the weight of change. When a new, attractive neighbor moves in (Byrne) below him, he's enticed, but unsure how to go about pursuing a relationship. CLICK HERE to read De Salvo's interview with director Max Mayer
While interviewing the two of them it became obvious rather quickly that chemistry was never an issue. Each admitted the shooting process was a daunting task, but very worth it. With Dancy being form Europe, and Byrne hailing from down under, it was very easy for me to listen to their earnest insights about the film ... because I'm a sucker for accents. You would be too after 15 minutes alone with these two.
Being two bright young Hollywood actors, each were very polite, and entirely unpretentious. When I apologized for gushing about how much I adored the film, they each redirected my attention to the interview at hand.
How long did you guys have to develop an onscreen chemistry Adam and Beth find themselves having?
HUGH: We didn't [have time]. We did have a day together to rehearse. You might as well just call that "meeting each other," essentially so we wouldn't go into shock when we arrived on set. Whatever chemistry is exactly, we sort of just figured out on set. A lot of it was there in the script. It just had to be realized.
Rose, how much research did you have to do in order to best represent a woman falling for someone with Asperger's?
ROSE: The script was so well-structured. You have the initial superficial attraction, and then becoming friends, and at one point you think they're not going to get together... It's very organic. By the time it happens, it's very true. I never had a problem believing this could happen, because of the structure of the script.
HUGH: In a way, if it had adhered to the romantic-comedy formula, where you absolutely knew they were going to end up together, it would have been harder to believe. it doesn't just pay lip service to the idea that they might not be compatible. It's genuinely feasible that she's never going to talk to him again. When it does happen, it feels earned.
Right. This isn't the sort of film that would feature Matthew McConaughey.
ROSE: [Laughs out loud]
HUGH: Right. For whatever reason, 'rom-coms' have become these fully-greased machines... You could also say the same thing about Matthew McConaughey [Laughs]. Just, completely recognizable. That's fine. It's escapist, and what a lot of people want.
As I was saying to Max [the director], there are a lot of people who don't want to have to think when they go to the movies.
HUGH: That's right. They want a break, yeah. The romantic comedies I really liked are character pieces. Films like When Harry Met Sally, and...
ROSE: Annie Hall.
HUGH: Right. We talked about this a couple of weeks ago. One reason for that, a lot of the things you see falling between characters-wealth, status, and race, and things like that... are just not as significant as they were in society 15 years ago. Nowadays, if you use that device, you're stretching the limits of believability. What you're looking for is a believable obstacle to romance.
What makes their relationship great, is the fact that Beth's ex-boyfriend sounds rather...
Yeah! Dude... ish.
HUGH & ROSE: [Both laugh]
Rose, how do you present a character who can be with such a normal "dude," and then turn around and take a chance on someone with Asperger's?
ROSE: When we got on set, Max gave us opportunities to explore, and sort of get the tone right. It was a comedy in parts, and that really came out in the writing, but it came out [on screen] organically. I think Beth is really an unconventional character, especially for a female role. It's really just in retrospect, that I can see all of that. When you're in the process of it, you're just focusing on moment-to-moment, scene-to scene, you know? When I see it now, it does make sense. Within context of her family, I feel like she was rebelling a bit. From when she begins to see Adam, to when her family sort of... comes apart, and everything else.
HUGH: Yeah, but you have to give yourself some credit for creating the experience.
ROSE: Well, I would say the same to you.
HUGH: Oh, I knew exactly what I was doing [Laughs].
ROSE: [Laughs] Right, yeah.
Was this script a tough one to get on board with right away? Did the premise scare you?
HUGH: Well, 95 percent of scripts you read, you know are no good instantly. When I was reading this script, I knew that it was good. There was good dialogue, the scenes were rich, and there seemed to be a greater intelligence operating underneath. Until the point where I realized he had Asperger's, I was worried that he was just going to be a sort of vague, slightly generic, alternative sort of character. Most of the scripts I've read are no good, because they've, for want of a better phrase, come out of the "Hollywood machine." They tend to not allow for ambiguity, or uncertainty. There's great set up for Adam, and for the first half hour, there is that uncertainty.
I spoke with Max about that scene where you're nervously waiting for Beth to come take you out with her friends. How do both of you prepare to put something that off-kilter on display? In Hugh's case, presenting someone with this disorder hitting bottom, and in Rose's--experiencing something like this on a personal level?
HUGH:We were working in a trusting environment. It was a safe environment. As we shot the difficult sequences, we worked to make sure there was a progression so everyone understood what was going on in the story. That way, you don't just get lost while watching someone have a panic attack, or whatever you want to call it. You see the combination of his fear that he's going to have to go out with her, and that she said she was coming at 8:00, and it's 8:15 ... To get that escalation. Obviously, you draw on your own experiences with anxiety, or panic. But, you're also trying to be specific to the character. I think it's quite easy for actors to draw on levels of anxiety. You're never far from being nervous, anyway. You have to make sure you're not just tapping into some kind of generic feeling.
ROSE: Yeah. My experience was vastly different from Hugh's. I was basically... truly reacting in that moment where we were yelling at each other, you know? She does lose her temper, and you see her... change in that moment.
HUGH: It was odd because [the fight scene] was in such a small room. They were moving the cameras back and forth. So, when I was doing my screaming and shouting, Rose was there... I guess, but pretty much behind the camera. We couldn't really interact as much as we could in much more normal scenes.
ROSE: Physically, that was kind of hard, because of the violence of it, and things falling, and that sort of thing.
Everybody who wants to be an actor, thinks they can act. The thing is , it's really hard to evoke these sort of emotions in front of an entire crew when there's a moment as intimate as a fight between lovers. Was that difficult for you?
HUGH: Well, it is an entire venture, and when things go well, you feel like everybody's on your side. With a film this small, you realize how invested everybody was, all the way down the line.
Right. But, honestly, I'd trust Hugh Dancy to be able to pull something like that off rather than Asthon Kutcher, or McConaughey. I'm sure they're great guys, but...
HUGH: [Laughs] Well, I've never met either or them, but I'm sure they are as well. I wouldn't want to speculate about... that. [Laughs] The kind of movies those guys are best known for aren't in the same vein. This movie isn't, ultimately a romantic-comedy.
Right. Max and I agreed the 'rom-com' tag doesn't fit Adam.
Quick Questions with Hugh Dancy and Rose Byrne
Book you wish you'd written?
HUGH: "Sabbath's Theater," by Phillip Roth.
Worst job you've ever had?
HUGH: I was a dishwasher in an industrial estate, for three days. I quit.
ROSE: Working in a curry house.
Who would you be for 24 hours?
HUGH: Lord Byron.
ROSE: Hugh Dancy!