July: Yeah, she was on another movie and joined us a week into shooting. She was the only person I knew I wanted to cast from the get-go, and it was such a joy; she did every line as it was always meant to be. What I had in mind was a kind of all-American avatar. Who could be, like, America’s sweetheart at this time? It would be Jane the Virgin, it would be Gina. So I almost slightly typecast her, but she’s quite powerful in her femininity, so she complicated that perfectly. Whereas with Debra Winger, I had no idea how she’d feel about this long gray hair and no makeup. It’s a testament to her dedication.
Sims: And Richard Jenkins—
July: —could do that part in his sleep? Yes.
Sims: He’s just so funny! You’d never worked with him before, right? Was he also who you had in mind?
July: There were maybe a couple of people in the right age range who could have played the part. Now, of course, I don’t feel that way; it had to have been him. But at the time, when you’re casting … The thing is, I didn’t want to work with any of those other men. You’re casting for who is going to help you inside the movie, who you want to hang around with, who’s not an asshole. [Jenkins] is not gonna hit on one of the girls, and he’s kind of unique and humble. Now, he’s this Oscar-nominated star [most recently for 2017’s The Shape of Water], but he came to that late enough that he’s always talking to day-players really deeply about something, because that’s who he’s really relating to. I needed someone who wasn’t going to be a problem, and it’s weirdly hard to find a man that age who’s not going to be a problem, ego-wise.
Sims: I know what you mean. There’s that phenomenon in Hollywood of people who got famous later in life having a better energy than someone who’s been a big star since they were young.
July: That shouldn’t be the only thing I say about him, because he’s phenomenal, and he and I would really tussle over the lines. We’d have running, good-humored arguments about a single word, but in a way where I really learned a lot. Nothing felt better than giving him a direction that was helpful.
Sims: I saw the movie at the Sundance Film Festival with a big crowd, and there are moments that are incredible to experience with an audience, like the big scene where Old Dolio is locked in the bathroom and the screen goes completely dark. How do you feel about the moment we’re living through and how the film will be experienced now?
July: I was pretty focused on all the things you just said, how the movie would look and feel on streaming. But now that I’m getting feedback from people who have watched it during the pandemic, I keep getting emails about the uncanny resonance of it, about things like Old Dolio’s intensity over being touched, of the pandemic being the Big One that the family fears so much. I guess I feel like this is the world the movie was made for, and I’ve tried to have trust in this whole process. I’m not saying I’m prophetic or anything, but it’s allowed me to let go.
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