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Macon Blair on His Timely Debut ‘I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore’ and Working With Steven Soderbergh

Written by on February 22, 2017 

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Hot on the heels of a breakout lead performance in Blue Ruin and a solid supporting turn in Jeremy Saulnier‘s follow-up Green Room, Macon Blair finds himself in the director’s chair with I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore. Starring Melanie Lynskey as Ruth, a woman at the end of her rope, the film offers a welcome and relatable catharsis to the bullshit we deal with everyday. We got a chance to sit down with Blair at Sundance, before his film picked up the Grand Jury Prize, and chat about working with Netflix, acting for Steven Soderbergh and watching your directorial debut in a new, disgruntled political age.

How does it come together after Blue Ruin and that whole ride? You had been acting for a while and then this. How does that happen? I know Anish Savjani and Filmscience were part of it.

Absolutely, yeah, from the get-go. There’s no question that Jeremy [Saulnier]’s movie broke out in a way that just kind of opened some doors and people started paying more attention to him and…

…and to your performance.

Right, and gratefully so. And so yeah I got a little bit more people taking a look at me. But also I was trying to pursue screenwriting at the same time. And I wasn’t really getting enough acting work to support the family. Luckily, the screenwriting bridged the gap. And I always had the idea at some point in the future that I wanted to direct something and kind of be able to have that control. And watching Jeremy work was so exciting. But it was always this vague, at-some-point-in-the-future thing. But I started to think about it more seriously when we were working on Green Room and, coincidentally or not, Anish and Neil [Kopp of Filmscience] started talking to me about wanting to develop something together. And so I had a couple of loose, different ideas in my head and they started to come together as a script I wanted to write specifically to bring to them.

So this wasn’t a script you had in a drawer…

Nope, I wrote specifically like, ‘Okay, if this is going to be the first thing I direct what is it that I want to do?’ And I’ve said this before but it’s — I don’t know if it sounds corny or not but it’s true — the attitude was like, ‘Let us just assume that you only get to do this one time. What is the one thing you want on your tombstone?’ So I kind of approached it from that angle. And part of it was that type of character I wanted to deal with and talk about and some genre stuff that I wanted to do and kind of try to blend them together. It’s not that Filmscience said ‘we’ll definitely do whatever you bring us’ but they were like, ‘Let us be the first to look at it.’ And so I brought it to them and they kind of took it over from there and brought it up and then through them it connected with XYZ Films and through XYZ it connected with Netflix. It was about a year of development.

And Netflix was basically on board through production then?

Well, I mean there was about a year of Filmscience where we were trying to develop it and get the money from more traditional sources. And there was some progress there but it never quite clicked. And at the eleventh hour, and it’s funny because it was at a meeting at last year’s Sundance, we connected with XYZ and that connected us with Netflix. And we had a meeting with [Netflix] and I pitched [the movie] to them and, like, two weeks later we were in pre-production. It happened very, very quickly. And so yeah, as soon as they signed off on the budget and the financing it was always going to be a Netflix production. And it was great because we had some initial creative conversations but it was more about me telling them what I wanted to do as opposed to them like, ‘you have to do this.’  I told them what I wanted to do, who I wanted to cast, and they said ‘great.’ We had one conference call and I never heard from them. They just gave us the go-ahead.

So Netflix was a good experience then.

So supportive. Like creative freedom that I was just not expecting. I just assumed, a first-time director’s going to have a lot of cooks in the kitchen, looking over your shoulder. And rightly so. For whatever reason, this was not like that so it was kind like, ‘Oh shit.’ They really gave me some space to play and it was very cool.

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One thing that jumps out watching the movie, and this is real-world circumstances more than anything, is this movie feels so apropos to everything that’s happening right now. So I imagine one of the reasons it’s been so well-received is that it resonates on this level of today. I imagine as a filmmaker, you made this at a different time and now, what is it like to see the reaction it’s getting in this newer context? Like it’s refreshing for people.

No, I heard that. I don’t know if it’s refreshing. I think it’s anti-refreshing, but it’s more like a recognizable thing. Like I’m sure I’m not the only person that has those types of, ‘Can we please just take a breath and not be so shitty all the time?’ That cannot be just me. And so I think there is something and, you know, when I wrote it I don’t think the temperature had boiled to quite the heights that it did leading up to the election and afterwards. But it seems almost tame compared to that. The kind of rhetoric that gets associated with that kind of event and just the way things are now. And I think there are some behavioral things that Ruth (played Melanie Lynskey) gets real bent out of shape about. Like dishonesty and entitlement. Things that I think are relevant today and to current newsworthy events.

Or not-so-newsworthy events.

[Laughs] Depending on who you want to read. Yeah, so it was not intended that way but I think through good timing or, I guess you could say, through extraordinarily bad timing it does feel a little relevant.

Now, obviously, national treasure Melanie Lynskey is great and it’s great to see her in the lead role. Her counterpart here, Elijah Wood, is doing something a little bit different to such a degree that this feels like a role he’s been waiting to play. So when you’re casting do you have him in your mind?

Melanie was in my mind very early on and I think while I was still writing the initial idea was that Tony (Wood’s character) would be a big, lumbering oaf. Like, sort of a goofy giant. And then, I don’t know what the exact reference was, but I started to feel like maybe I’ve seen that before. At any rate, I started to think that it would be to do this character more as somebody with a little bit of a Napoleon complex because he is so tiny. He overcompensates with this energy and this certainty about morals and things like that. And it started to make a lot of sense that somebody like Elijah would work for it and, coincidentally, I started running into him at film festivals and he was very complimentary about some stuff that I had done and I’m obviously a huge fan of his. And it was just kind of like an idea popped into my head. And at first it was like,’ That’s…wrong’ and then I was like ‘That’s wrong…” It felt like fun against-type casting. And because he’s so likable I felt like we could get away with Tony being a little more obnoxious and not turning people off to him. Like you still kind of root for him.

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So this is your directorial debut and good reviews coming in.

So far, yeah, feels great.

So are you looking at this like, ‘What’s the next thing I’m directing?’ You’ve got a part in Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming movie, Logan Lucky, so you are still acting.

Well, I like to be open to everything. There’s a script I did write before this one that some other people were attached to that now that I’ve done a movie that got into a festival, I think the producers started consider like ‘Oh.’ The other directors that were attached to it fell of, so now the producers are like, ‘Oh, you wrote it, it’s from your brain–‘

You know where to put the camera…

Yeah I mean, ‘you didn’t totally, hopefully, shit the bed on this one’ so I’m going to try to get that one off the ground. I’ve a couple of TV projects that I’m associated with that are, sort of, development phase so not quite… I wouldn’t say, ‘Look for them in the fall,’ but they’re moving up the chain. I wrote a script that Jeremy [Saulnier] is directing. He’s on pre-production on it right now in Canada. It’s called Hold The Dark, an adaptation of a book. Jeremy has been trying to get it made for quite some time. They were going to shoot it I think last spring and just had to push. It’s a much bigger movie. I don’t know exactly but it’s like well over 1o [million dollars in budget]. So it’s a much bigger machine, takes much longer to get up and running. But it’s finally up and running. So we’re excited about that. I’m trying to get whatever acting work I can. It’s sort of like there are so many things they can seem promising and then totally go away. I try to put as much stuff out there on the theory that 90 percent is not going to happen but if I can get a couple of that 10 percent stack going, that’ll cover the bills.

That’s the game right?

Yeah, statistics.

When you’re on a set like Logan Lucky are you pulling anything from someone like Soderbergh?

Kind of, but that would be sort of like a first-year physics student watching Einstein and being like, ‘What can I pull from this?’ He’s just on a different level.

He’s editing right? Editing while he’s filming?

I think they had the score written ahead of time. I was told that they were going to have a cast and crew screening of the movie. Almost an assembled cut of the movie a week after they wrapped, because he’s editing every night. He shoots so quickly it’s sort of like there are almost no lights. You see all of these trailers because it is a big movie and you think it’s going to be this massive thing and then you just walk into this room and it’s him and an AD [Assistant Director] and he’s like, ‘Run through the scene one time. Okay.’ One take. Two takes. We’re wrapped. You know people were astonished if the days would go to twelve hours because he’s so fast. It’s just like while he’s waiting for people to come in, he’s mellow and talking about NASCAR. It seems like a bunch of people hanging out and not making a multi-million dollar studio movie. Sort of just bullshitting and then like, ‘Oh, we’re ready to go? Okay… boom wrapped, alright, good day everybody.’ And you’re like ‘What did we do?! Was that a 3-page dialogue scene?’

I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore hits Netflix on February 24.


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