Jennifer Lawrence was essential to making ‘Causeway’ — even if she tried to throw her director in a pool

Jennifer Lawrence was essential to making ‘Causeway’ — even if she tried to throw her director in a pool

(*_ ) If you’re making a movie that uses Jennifer Lawrence , be prepared for her to volunteer you as a tribute to the water.

Causeway (in theaters and on AppleTV now) stars Lawrence as Lynsey, an Army soldier struggling to piece her life back together after a traumatic brain injury sends her home to New Orleans. James Brian Tye Henry ),, a mechanic, is the first to meet her. This unlikely friendship leads them to explore the cracks in the many tragedies that have shaped their lives.

The drama also marks Lila Neugebauer’s feature film directorial debut, having made a name for herself in theater, most particularly with the 2018 Tony-winning revival of The Waverly Gallery. The secret weapon of the project was its cast: Lawrence, and Henry, Neugebauer’s longtime friend.

“It feels very cheesy, but that’s what I felt,” Neugebauer said about her first meeting with Lawrence. Even though her star tried to throw her into a pool (in good humor).

In Causeway Lynsey works as a pool cleaner to help her get back on track. She finds a sense of calm in the water and healing from it, so she often gets in them. Lawrence was a bit more playful. Neugebauer says, “In the course of filming this movie I wound up in swimming pools.” Jen tried to throw me into the pool. We both fall. It goes like this: She picks up me, she tries throwing me in the pool, and we laugh. We called Neugebauer to learn more about her experiences moving from stage to screen, why Lawrence was the right choice, and how she was inspired by Elaine May’s Broadway performances.

Causeway, Lila Neuberger

Credit: Wilson Webb/Apple TV ; Inset: Tracey Biel/Getty Images

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it about this project that made you want to tackle it for your feature debut?

LILA NEUGEBAUER: I have really been a theater director for the last 15 years. I have always hoped to make movies. Like many freelancers, however, I was preoccupied with my work and focused on one project at a given time. This made it difficult to keep my head down and stay focused. About a year ago, I started uttering it aloud. People were sending me things around the same time that I started reading screenplays. I was sitting down, and I saw this script. I was shocked. It was non-traditionally structured, lyrical and patient. It was also sensitive. There was a slow, slow burn to it.

And, even though I’m not a veteran of the military, I felt mentally connected with this character and her inner world. It was a book that I felt a connection to, so I was interested in it. It was a story that I felt a connection to, and this movie was born in a very fast manner. Jennifer Lawrence [my friend] received it and had a similar reaction. I was like, “Can you have dinner with me?” We had dinner together and she agreed to it. It was a strong, immediate connection. We were only a few months after she signed on, and we were both in the first production of the film. We would later pay for this serendipity — there were many setbacks, the pandemic, etc., but that was how it all started.

Was moving from stage to film harder or easier than you anticipated?

This is going to be so contrarian, but I don’t know if any of my expectations were framed vis-a-vis questions of difficulty. In some ways, it was almost impossible to have a baseline for how difficult I expected it to be. It would be filled with new challenges and new mountains to scale. It was because I was eager to learn and to solve new creative problems. The endurance required to make a film is what makes it difficult. This is the extreme example of it. [Ed. [Ed. My contract ends when the play opens in the theater. Although I enjoy checking in on the show, I don’t have the right to return. They carry the story with their. You carry it with you every day as a filmmaker. It is with you everywhere you go, in every creative process, across all collaborators. The stamina, resilience, responsibility, and endurance required to do that, as well as the tenacity and tenacity, are all important. It’s also exciting.

A lot of theater directors when they make their feature debuts are stuck in the proscenium. This is not the case. Causeway is a story of a specific space and setting, and it takes you around that space in very cinematic ways. What were some techniques you used to avoid falling into this trap?

I don’t think I knew that was a trap. Directing theater was one of my greatest discoveries. However, you also have all the tools you don’t need — the camera can move! This is not a dynamic camera film. Diego [Garcia, my cinematographer] and I were very cautious about the film’s unmotivated camera movements. We wanted to make sure that the characters were treated with sensitivity. We wanted to treat the characters with great care. Diego and I share a love of a well-constructed wide shot. That’s a surprising love for a theater director. We share a deep appreciation for the way that a simple frame can contain a lot of psychological and emotional information. Diego and I wanted to make sure that style didn’t overburden substance. There is an attempt to achieve minimalism, or simplicity. However, it is a highly intentional simplicity that we both believed would create quiet poetry.

You mentioned that Jen was key early in the process, but why were she and Brian the right fit for you?

She and I both felt something at a subterranean level in this original script that spoke to us very personally. This created a space between us. It was organic, natural. It was evident from the very first day of our encounter that we could form a strong creative partnership. I left feeling extremely motivated and energized with a sense of creative urgency. That is something I still remember very clearly. That bore out in terms her performance. Jen’s ability, across a variety of cinematic registers to convey such raw inner life in stillness has always amazed me. She holds stillness with such energy and power. She conveys the rawness of her inner life in this film with such a restrained and understated register. This reflects her discipline as an actor and her rigor.

I’ve know Brian since I was 19, a very long time. We are good friends. He was the only person I wanted to play the role when I read the script. Brian is an actor with singular humanity, range and spirit. He is also a man of integrity, which I have known for a long time. He is also a sensitive actor with an empathetic curiosity. I knew that he would approach this role with such love and care, and with a lot courage.

She herself talked about it a little bit this week. Jen feels that this is a return to the days when she first caught people’s attention with indies such as Winter’s Bone .. Did you discuss that?

I love Winter’s Bone. Jen and I have never spoken about it. It was only when Jen told me a story about Debra Grnik and the sweatpants she wore in a scene that we spoke about it. Although I am a huge Debra Grank fan, we didn’t talk about her. We never discussed her roles in other films. Jen wanted to do something intimate and personal that was meaningful to her. From our first conversation, I knew that. It’s been obvious to me that she is a great collaborator throughout the entire process. I would just like to say that it was an honor to have worked with an actor and producer of such talent, who are such advocates for the filmmaker and were my co-pilot in all aspects.

You worked with Elaine May on her Broadway debut, The Waverly Gallery, and she’s an incredible director. Did you seek any advice?

Thank you for bringing up Elaine. All I want to talk about Elaine is. She is my idol. Just by being in Elaine May’s room, I learned so many things. It was one of my greatest privileges. Elaine shared some great stories about her creative endeavors while we were producing that production. I must admit that I was attentive while listening.

I love the metaphor of pools and the healing power of water, particularly in that climactic argument scene. How was it to film in pools?

We definitely had camera operators in the pool. This scene was difficult to shoot due to the fact that these characters are very reactive and unprepared. This movie is slow and patient. People think between the lines a lot. We are in a reactive register in that scene. Jen and Brian had to calibrate those performances. It was a difficult scene. It was personal, and it was scary. It was a difficult scene that required everyone to dig deep in order to deliver it.

Causeway is in theaters and on AppleTV now.

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