Director Drake Doremus (Like Crazy, Breathe In) is apparently fascinated with with the idea of love.
If there’s been a recurring theme in Doremus’ work to date, it’s most definitely love – the things that it does to people and the things that it makes them do. That’s part of what makes his latest film, Equals, feel like such a departure. Doremus’ previous films have been small scale, intimate dramas focused on a handful of characters – films clearly unconcerned with the inesecapble genre trappings of most Hollywood films. Equals‘ combo of dystopian science fiction setting and “hot young stars” like Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult might lead some to believe that Doremus has turned his back on this sort of film and made the leap to big budget blockbuster, but it quickly becomes apparent that the director is still playing with the very same themes he explored previously, albeit with a more fantastic backdrop.
Equals posits a familiar dystopian scenario: a society where emotions have been genetically eliminated from the human race and subsequently outlawed. It’s in this society that coworkers Nia (Kristen Stewart) and Silas (Nicholas Hoult) begin a dangerous affair, experiencing emotions for the first time and quite literally risking everything for love.
We recently had a chance to speak to Doremus about Equals and discussed everything from Kristen Stewart’s passionate fanbase to the influence of visionary directors like Ridley Scott and Francois Truffaut, and the untimely passing of his friend and collaborator Anton Yelchin.
On preparing Stewart and Hoult to play characters who’d never experienced emotions before.
DD: It was tricky! We kind of had to start over and build these characters from scratch. We tried to think of what it would be like to go through your entire upbringing not feeling anything and then starting to experience that. So we really just had lots of conversations about our lives, our relationships, and what we’ve been through. We tried to personalize it in that sense – we were trying to think like “Oh, so the first time you felt this or the first time you felt that…” What was that like? It was very personal.
They both threw themselves into it so much. I’m very proud of both their performances. They pushed themselves and brought out the best in each other. The chemistry and that energy was there, which was really fortunate for me.
On Kristen Stewart’s passionate fanbase
DD: I had no idea her fans were so amazing. They are super devoted and super passionate and it’s kind of amazing. One would be so lucky to have fans like that, so I’m sort of overwhelmed by it. But also the support that they’ve given to us and the movie, and how much they love the movie and are starting to discover the movie now that they’re getting a chance to see it. It’s pretty cool man, I love it. I love that you can connect with people all over the world who get to see your movie. For me, it’s an inspiration more than anything, that people tweet at me to say that they were affected or moved by any of my films. It makes me keep wanting to make films.
On working with the supporting cast of Guy Pearce, Jacki Weaver, Bel Powley, and Kate Lyn Sheil
DD: All those actors are doing it for the right reasons. They’re just no bullshit people who just love the craft and want to do something special and something personal. Guy is just the quintessential example of that. He’s had such a wonderful career, but I know exactly what I’m going to get with him. We’ve become friends, and it’s so cool to work with him since I’ve been a fan for so long.
Same thing with Bel and Kate and Jacki. There’s just not that many great, wonderful people, let alone actors, out there. You just try to find them because it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be difficult. You want to surround yourself with the right people on and off screen to get through the process.
On the passionate response to the film
DD: It’s a pretty polarizing film and I guess that’s the kind of film that I’m drawn to and love. People love the movie, and they’re really taken by it and are really emotional, and then some people really hate it. It’s super fascinating to me the idea of making a movie that’s kind of broad, that reaches a lot of people, and it wouldn’t be very interesting to me, it wouldn’t be as honest. I’m just trying to make movies that I love. It’s tricky. It’s such a subjective thing.
When I was at TIFF, we did the intro for the film and we went out to dinner and then came back and watched the last fifteen minutes – which I think are my favourite fifteen minutes of anything that I’ve ever made – just sitting on the wings. We were right next to this row of five younger women and they just couldn’t even breathe. They were so emotional and they were crying so hard. It was just amazing. It was like all the hard work, everything we’ve been through the last couple of years was released at this moment. I got really emotional, it made me realize that this is why I’m here. This is what I do.
On Francois Truffaut and Ridley Scott’s influence on Equals
Drake Doremus: Fahrenheit 451 was the main influence. Silas is very similar to Montag, understanding that something is wrong but falling into it and not being able to escape it. It’s a really beautiful thing. So I was really very taken with that.
Ridley [Scott]’s movies, Blade Runner, the idea of creating this kind of slow burn tone poem where you can let the music and the visuals wash over you and experience it. That’s really what I wanted to do, but it wasn’t like I said to myself “I want to make a sci-fi film,” or “I’m a sci-fi guy.” Certainly I wanted to push myself to try to do something different, but I’m not a sci-fi nerd per se or grew up obsessed with the genre by any means.
On the passing of his friend and Like Crazy star Anton Yelchin
DD: It still seems like a nightmare. I can’t get it off my mind. It’s pretty heartbreaking, man. It has been a really tough couple of weeks. At the end of the day, he was such a passionate cinephile and loved film so much that the idea of talking about movies and continuing to make movies is more important than ever now. It brings such a different light on it, you know? I want to make movies for him. I learned so much from him and I want to make movies that he would be excited by. I could never make a movie or set up a shot again without thinking about him, and what I learned from him, you know? We were a family and it’s still super devastating.
On his possible future in television
DD: There’s a book coming out next year called White Fur by Jardine Libaire that we’re going to start to looking at. I’m really, really excited about it. The idea of taking characters over a 12 hour arc is super fascinating to me and something I think I’m ready to try.
Equals hits Canadian theatres and Video on Demand services July 15