The Edinburgh International Film Festival opens this year with Drake Doremus’ highly-anticipated follow-up to 2011’s Like Crazy. Breathe In follows the director’s highly intimate, yet romantic style of realism to bring to life a devastating affair between a British exchange student and the American husband and father who welcomes her into his home. I was lucky enough to sit down with the director to discuss his ideas on the film while sitting in a room which can only be described as the set from Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette…
FlickFeast: One of the most interesting things I found about it was the way you handled the age difference between the two characters, because even though she’s over 18, so their relationship is entirely legal, it’s something that as a society we tend to condemn and there’s always this idea that one person is corrupting the other. But you did it in such an interesting way where it was really intellectual, emotional and most importantly very equal. Was that something that you really wanted to set out to explore or was it more a by-product of the storyline?
Drake Doremus: That’s a really interesting question. It was really fascinating to me, I guess, to make a movie about two people who were sort of meeting in the middle. A younger person who is essentially much older through the experiences she’s had in her life and an older man who is essentially much younger because, maybe, his development was arrested at some point or, you know, his growth was stunted. So in a way they’re sort of the same age. So it’s essentially the idea of two people in the right place at the wrong time and sort of crossing and passing. There was something really interesting about exploring a kindred spirit relationship through that kind of context.
FF: There’s quite a few scenes in the movie where Keith and Sophie play instruments, and I found that the way you filmed those scenes…the sexual tension was unbearable. What do you think those scenes represented to you in terms of the relationship?
DD: I really wanted to make a movie that was very sexy and very romantic, but at the same time I didn’t want to show actual sex. I wanted the instrumentation, the musicality of the film to be the sexual nature of the film. And I do believe that there are a couple of sex scenes in the film, but they’re sort of different sex scenes, and I wanted the emotional suspense to resonate in a way that was very nuanced and sub-textual, I suppose.
FF: Yeah, I found the piano bench scene was by far the sexiest scene. What for you is the sexiest musical instrument? Is it the piano or is there something else?
DD: Oh wow. I mean, it’s funny, after watching Guy [Pearce] do it; I think Guy was immensely sexy when playing the cello.
FF: Yeah, I agree.
DD: I’m going to have to go with the cello. Because it’s like an extension of him, so it’s very sexy.
FF: And there’s lots of, like, finger action…
DD: Yes, yes there is. It’s true.
FF: There’s an obvious link between Like Crazy and Breathe In in the fact it’s about a British Exchange student coming to the UK. Do you have any links to the UK or are you just interested in that contrast?
DD: It’s so funny. I mean, to be honest, no. Originally I was looking for a British actress for Like Crazy and found Felicity [Jones] and just fell in love working with her. So, it’s because of her. To be honest, she could have been French.
FF: She is just such an incredible actress. I mean, is it tempting to just constantly re-cast the same people?
DD: Yeah, it’s safe and exciting because I know what I’m going to get and there’s something to be said for that going in. It’s pretty cool.
FF: What is it like as opposed to working with a new actor like Guy Pearce? It must be quite a different experience, since he’s been working for so long and has such a huge reputation as an actor, is it quite nerve-wracking or more of an exciting experience for you?
DD: More exciting. The only thing that was nerve-wracking for both of us was that he had never improvised before, let alone improvised in a foreign dialect. Which was very scary for him. But he really embraced it and trusted the process and eventually became very good at it. But it really was a daunting task, I think.
FF: He was so good at it, it took me a couple of minutes to figure out it was him.
DD: Oh, awesome. He’s such a chameleon. It’s such a testament to how much he always, sort of, disappears into the roles that he plays. This is such a closed version of himself, that no one’s ever seen before, that I think it’s a little bit surprising at first, maybe.
FF: Your movies are amazing in how realistic and natural they are, but in a way it goes against this idea that cinema is a form of escapism. Is that something you agree with? What is the point of movies for you?
DD: I guess that’s a two-part answer. I think the first part is that, that’s why I feel like the plot of the story is so heightened and kind of out-of-control, it’s almost like a fairytale in a way. So that juxtaposes against the realism, this voyeurism hopefully creates something very unique in a sense, and the film-making kind of takes over. But as far as the second part of that answer, I feel like, for me, it’s about feeling connected to something human and understanding something about us as human beings and relationships. That’s what I go to the movies for and that’s why I make movies, is to try and create and gain a better understanding of who we are and why we do the things we do and why we feel the way we feel.
FF: That’s such a good point. Like, when you see a film and just think “that is how I feel”, you feel less alone because you’re not the only one.
DD: You feel so connected to being on this earth and why we’re here, and having other people understand that and connecting to that is very powerful and spiritual and, I think, that’s the power that movies can provide.
FF: Obviously, the next thing you’ve got in your pipeline is this sci-fi romance I’ve heard so much about. Going back to this idea that the way you film is this kind of voyeuristic style, do you think you’re going to change the way you direct, because sci-fi is more fantastical, it’s a fantasy? Or is the challenge trying to approach it in the way you approached Breathe In?
DD: My next movie is going to be very different. It’s going to be much more scripted, much more structured. But it’s going to retain a lot of the elements, but at the same time it’s going to be a discovery process and a new process, and I’m going to explore a different sensibility, hopefully, as well. So it’ll feel and look different.