In Rachel Lambert’s Sometimes I Think About Dying, Daisy Ridley plays Fran, a quiet woman who loves cottage cheese. Working in an office, with all of the nondescript current office trappings such as Slack messaging, awkward ice breakers, and retirement cakes, Fran moves through the world unnoticed and insulated. She rarely communes with her co-workers and friends outside of the office don’t seem to be an option. Through the first act of the film, Fran barely even speaks, even if her coworkers cannot seem to stop talking about the most mundane of topics.
Enter Robert (Dave Merheje, a wonderful actor known for his role as a doctor on TV’s Ramy), the new guy at the office who seems interested in Fran. They go to a movie, share a piece of pie, and begin to share each other’s lives over the course of a couple of weeks. Fran’s confidence grows and her hesitance lessens as Robert invites her into his world, and in turn, the world at-large.
Lambert’s film likely features the best use of Slack ever in a motion picture, and Ridley captures this office malaise to perfection. She’s pitch-perfect in this role, understated yet full of micro-movements. Ridley uses these movements to tell the audience about Fran, about how she reacts to each and every experience in her life. It’s great work by the British actor, who most audiences will recognize from blockbuster fare. She excels in this confined role, embodying a woman that’s easy to root for, undeniable in her charm, especially during one pivotal scene at a murder mystery party.
That charm applies to all of Sometimes I Think About Dying, an indie that’s easy to like, even if its initial premise feels stretched within the feature-length runtime. We chatted with Lambert and Ridley about creating comfort on set, seizing the moment, and the building blocks necessary to create moments of emotion.
The Film Stage: In terms of the short film, Daisy, did you look at that performance? Did it influence you at all?
Daisy Ridley: I read the script. I didn’t even read the play, actually, before we started, and I went to go watch the short film but I was like, “This is just not going to be useful to me.” Because then I’ve bound myself to someone else the whole way through and be influenced by it. So I was very much like, “No, this is a separate thing.” Of course, the short film is a version of what would then become the feature, but I felt like they’re two totally different things. And I would treat them as such.
Rachel, how did you decide what to use and what to leave out from the short? Especially with the use of voiceover.
Rachel Lambert: Well, I should begin my answer by saying I have absolutely no relationship to the short film at all. Daisy’s answer is very similar. I felt like if I’m going to stand in front of something that I said I made, I can do that knowing for sure that every choice was made by me and my team. And I had a suspicion that if I watched that [short film], I wouldn’t be able to have the ethic intact. So I never watched the short film in order to preserve my process as one that was ethically clean. Because that matters to me. I wanted to always know that everything we were harvesting, everything that was coming from within this group of people was true. That’s probably the most important determinant, and how it created something else.
Very early on, I never wanted to use the voiceover. I was not so arrogant to think that I shouldn’t remain open to it in the edit and certainly tried to play with it just to make sure that I was doing my due diligence. But I had a suspicion from the read. I talked to Ryan [Kendrick], my editor, about that. And our first phone call about the script, we decided that we didn’t want it––we were not interested in that.
Daisy Ridley: There was a voiceover as scripted the whole way through the film, which I ended up just using like stage directions. So I had a monologue all the time of what the writers created for Fran. And it’s interesting, because the reception has been varied. I think it’s very subjective and personal. Of course, I know exactly what it was that I was thinking at the time. Without it, though, the film feels more human, because the reactions have been so varied and so different. That’s sort of amazing, because people’s reactions are very revealing. And it’s gorgeous and personal and connected to discussions of how they’ve received it.
Fran rarely speaks for the first 30 minutes of the film. How do you prepare for a role in which your actions, your facial expressions, and these smaller movements are what are most important?
Daisy Ridley: I would prepare for any job the same way, really. For American jobs, of which I’ve done three, a big thing is accent prep. So that’s just the sort of school vibe of how to sound American. And then otherwise I would prepare in the same way. Actually, accent prep is very helpful, because I’m going through the whole script, thinking about things. Questions came up. Me and Rachel had talked a number of times, over email and Zoom in the run-up to the shoot, so I knew where Fran was coming from. Then there was a lot of space to try things. But it’s interesting, because Fran is very present. So just because I wasn’t speaking, I’m still presently there, listening to what’s going on. I’m a big listener anyway, so I think that’s probably close to me in a way, because I’m very cognizant of the world around me, even if I’m not always verbally engaging. Because I had all of that voiceover, I knew exactly where Fran was coming from. It really felt like prepping in any other way, and it’s interesting because some of the early conversation is easy and then the moments where Fran is really trying to connect, it’s more difficult. Whether she be physically holding onto Robert or not.
There’s a specific moment in the film where Fran and Robert go out for their date and the next day, she Slacks him and he doesn’t respond. All day she waits for him to respond. At the end of the day, she still asks him what he’s doing this weekend, still asks him his plans. How does she get the confidence to do that? How is she able to seize that moment and not let it pass her by?
Daisy Ridley: Fran is a multitude of things, as we all are. Ultimately, this film discusses someone who wants to connect overcoming the difficulty in connecting. And I feel like Robert is someone to her that very quickly means something that she probably wasn’t expecting, and I don’t know if she has felt like that in her life. But it certainly was not comfortable asking him that. It takes oomph to ask the question, almost expecting the answer of, “Well, I’m not around.” And then the surprise that he can actually hang out. But I think oftentimes, with all things, one has to overcome the difficulty.
This whole film is about how it’s uncomfortable to push yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s uncomfortable to be a human in this world. It’s uncomfortable to have conversations that make you feel uncomfortable. And it’s uncomfortable to reach out not knowing whether it’s going to be received or not. It’s the little spark of Fran wanting more to connect with someone than wanting to go home. Life just has to be more than what she already has. Maybe it’s the day, maybe it’s Friday, maybe it’s a number of different things that have given her a little moment of bravery.
The film builds into a single large emotional moment, in which Fran breaks down in her living room. How do you build to that as an actor and as a director, so that these moments feel earned and feel resonant to the audience?
Daisy Ridley: I actually felt like I was watching anyone be alone; having a very difficult private moment is very relatable. I found the most difficult scene to get to in terms of it feeling earned was in the car, which we actually shot after the house sequence. Because for Fran that is the biggest transgression, like she said something cruel, and she said something hurtful, and it’s coming from a place of hurt because she feels vulnerable. She feels pushed beyond where she wants to be pushed. But at the time, I said to Rachel, “Oh, my God, I really don’t know if I can get to this moment here.” And Rachel, of course, was like, “We have time––it’s fine.”
And there are moments when you lean on a director and you trust that the person that is leading you will help guide you into port. We had time, and it required Robert probably jabbing at me more than he might have expected I needed. But that was really, for me, where I felt like it’s the biggest outbursts from Fran. And that needed to be felt the most. Literally two nights ago I got back from Paris and there’s various stuff going on in my life that are not so easy right now. I literally watched a film and was crying on the sofa. For me, that’s what I do. So I feel like whenever I watch anyone have a moment like that, I’m like, “I feel you, girl.” The car was really the most difficult to get to because also to do something that’s not a big explosion in a way, but just one remark is difficult. And then the shame that was left; I think shame does a lot to people. And it felt heavy for me, in that moment, even to say those words.
Rachel Lambert: I love the way you said that. That shame does a lot to people. That’s good. It’s true.
Rachel, do you have anything to add on, in terms of finding those moments and feeling like you’ve earned them?
Rachel Lambert: All of that work is Daisy’s work. Directors don’t do anything; we just stand there to make sure the actors look good. [Both Laugh] What I feel is my responsibility in those moments is to be sensitive to the person having to find those things. I think that release, which is emotion, is something that, as Daisy said, can be accessed. There’s always a path to find that release. And release is something that can be found autonomously. So I think often my job is to set a room and space and privacy to allow that to happen. It makes sense to me that the scene that actually needed to be earned was the car, because that’s not about release, that’s about building. And building anything requires architecture, right? Any little beat, any little move that doesn’t get you to the zenith, then it falls apart.
An actor is a perfect litmus test to see if writing is working and if a scene is working because they can feel that emotional architecture. Then my job is to try to pay as much attention to that architecture as it’s going and try to sense where it’s faulty, and try to make some sense of that with them. For them. That’s my job. My job is to be there for the performers as much as possible.
Daisy Ridley: I would say, as actually a general work sense, obviously sets are often very respectful. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a set like this, except on my film that I then subsequently made, which was a similar thing. For the flat moment, I had never felt so respected and spacious and all of the stuff. There was a sequence of events that led to that moment that obviously wasn’t required in the cutting room, but the set was silent. The house was silent. It felt so personal. In a general, as Rachel says, director-sense, there was so much respect and space and everything on that set for those moments. To do anything––whether you’re crying or whether you’re happy––there was so much space on this film to try things and not feel pressured and not feel rushed. That’s a testament to Rachel and all the people that were there, all of the heads of department, all of the crew. There was a familial feeling on set, and everyone was so receptive to each other that it was really wonderful to be on that set in a real-life way.
Sometimes I Think About Dying opens in theaters on Friday, January 26.