Spoiler Alert is the latest from director Michael Showalter (The Big Sick) and I recently had the chance to discuss the project…
Matt: You’ve had a busy few years working as a director in both film and television. Has your approach to direction changed will all the additional experience under your belt?
Michael: I feel like I learn something from every project. I enjoy the process quite a bit.
Matt: How did you first hear about this script?
Michael: I read in the trades that Jim Parsons had optioned the book. I was curious about the project in terms of wanting to work with Jim. I contacted them and asked if they had a director. They then sent me the book which I read. I loved it and responded to it and I felt there was something really special there. I then teamed up with Jim and his company, and we found a writer from there.
Matt: Some movies about death tend to shy away from the heavier stuff but here, we have a lot of graphic scenes taking us inside the world of a cancer suffered… right up to the final hours and the final goodbyes. Was that a creative choice?
Michael: Yeah. That’s what so much of the book is about. It’s not whether or not someone will die, but rather how you cope with it and persevere. How does it change you and how does it change them? The movie was always an exploration of what happens in that period of time. We didn’t want to shy away from it but we also didn’t want to make it exploitative. It was a fine line we walked.
Matt: The film is based on the memoir written by Michael Ausiello. Was he involved at all with the production?
Michael: Yeah, very involved. He was on set every day and he was a producer on the movie. He was a source of information and guidance. All of the Smurfs in the movie are his. He temporarily donated them to the movie.
Matt: I was going to ask about that – how long it took to create that unique interior decoration?
Michael: He had his Smurf collection packed up from a storage house in New Jersey to us so it could be used in the film.
Matt: The early scenes of Spoiler Alert take us back to the late 1990s and we see things like business cards, and old-school cameras, and TV shows like Felicity. Were there any challenges at all in re-creating that era?
Michael: It was fun to be reminded of that. I remember when CDs were described as modern and people lamented the phasing out of albums. Now, CDs and DVDs feel so old now. I was in my 20s living in New York during the 1990s and it brought back a lot of memories.
Matt: A lot has been made in recent years about straight actors playing gay characters. I note here you’ve gone with two openly gay actors in the lead roles. Was it something you gave thought to?
Michael: It was important to me that they were. I have nothing against straight actors playing gay people and vice versa but in this movie, I really wanted to see two gay men playing these gay men. Only because it’s not as common as it should be. I’d like it to be so common that it wouldn’t even be noticeable. For the physical attraction and intimacy these two characters share, I wanted the chemistry to be increased by know they are gay men. Just like a heterosexual on-screen couple, I wanted a part of audiences to wonder whether these two are in love.
Matt: I also note a lot of other cast members, people like Nikki M. James and Bill Irwin, have a strong background in live theatre. Was that a conscious decision?
Michael: I love theatre. We shot the movie in New York and we were looking to have local actors in the movie. It’s not a coincidence they were the right people for the movie. Jim Parsons is heavily involved in theatre right now. It wasn’t discussed but I was interested in working with New York actors on this project.
Matt: Without giving too much away, there is a dreamlike, semi-cliched television show within the movie. As a director, did you approach those scenes differently?
Michael: Stylistically, we wanted it to look like an 80s sitcom. We used different colours, and had the actors act differently. I thought it was an interesting way to reveal things about the characters which were different and maybe a little surprising. It’s true about a lot of us who grew up in the 1980s that TV influences so much of the way we think and look at the world and the stories we tell. It was important to show that. Michael Ausiello, as played by Jim Parsons, is a TV writer. He’s so immersed in the stories of television and I wanted to convey that in this movie. He makes sense of the world through television in a lot of ways.
Matt: What are you working on at the moment?
Michael: I directed a romantic drama/comedy in the fall starring Anne Hathaway. I’m editing that as we speak. I hope that comes out sometime in the next year.