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Interview: Natasha Lyonne and Danny Perez probe Antibirth

Antibirth blends a refreshingly feminist spin on a hodgepodge of gritty genres and was also, hands down, the best film to come out of this year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival. Now, just over two months later, the film is getting a limited theatrical run at Toronto’s Carlton theatre and we’re delighted that the hidden gem will gain an even more rabid following. Starring longtime friends Chloe Sevigny (Love & Friendship, Bloodline) and Natasha Lyonne (Orange is the New Black, The Intervention), the film is a stark and brutally honest allegory of the horrors of pregnancy and, in turn, the biological and societal pressures women face daily that force them to conceive.

Just prior to the film’s Canadian premiere at the TAD festival, we sat down with Antibirth‘s director/writer Danny Perez and star Natasha Lyonne. The following were the conversation highlights.

Scene Creek: Let’s talk about the birth of the project. What was the genesis of the film?

Danny Perez: First and foremost I wanted to do something with Natasha, who I really liked. And I knew I wanted to do something with a lot of different genre elements that combined a lot of different things and stories that I wanted to tell. But definitely the genesis was me wanting to write something for Natasha, as a fan and as an artist who really wanted to collaborate with her and utilize her intensity into something that matched her performance style.

There were a lof of different projects swirling that I had in mind for her that were, believe it or not, a little more out there and bizarre, but she was always the anchor. This one I distinctly remember telling her the title and she was like, “Ooh, that’s cool!”.

Natasha Lyonne: Well the other one was untitled.

DP: Oh yeah. So, you know, it’s good to have a title.

NL: Yeah I had met Danny as a friend and when he told me that he wanted to make something (imitating him) “Yeah I’m going to make a movie and you’re going to star in this movie and I’m going to direct you in that movie and it’s going to be amazing! Finally, someone is going to use you the way you should be used.” It was just that really special thing where it turned out to be real, in the first place, and actually be a very special film that’s entirely original and cool. So I was very excited.

SC: What was it like filming in Sudbury? That’s my stereotypically Canadian question for the day.

DP: It was cold. That was unfortunately the foremost energy that predominated the shoot. It was a time of year that was really cold but it’s not dissimilar to a lot of suburban areas in the U.S., especially on the East Coast.

NL: I kind of liked the fact that we were there. It’s always kind of special when you get to make a movie, especially with a big part like this, to get to focus like this. To go into a random area, like in Apocalypse Now with the jungle, and here we were in the frozen tundra of Sudbury, it was our jungle. There’s no temptation at the end of the night to go hang out with friends and get distracted. For the time that we were making this movie, Chloe, Meg Tilly and I were all living in a connected house together and it was just this movie 24 hours a day for as long as it took to film this movie. The focus of that really lets you live in the movie and in the zone.

DP: And it’s such a site specific movie too. Location is a character in the movie as well so it helped the performances and behind the camera it helped inform the kind of shots I wanted.

SC: What did you learn from and about each other during the production?

DP: Well from Natasha, who had so much experience, she really helped me out in a huge way. She helped me understand how much we could get done on a tight schedule and what to look out for in the casting. I was really lucky, for my first narrative feature, to have someone with that much experience. What did I learn about her? I mean it was such an intense production and to go through a shoot like that…the fact that anyone could come out of that and still talk to one another afterwards is really such a miracle.

NL: Yeah! And I would say we did that and then some. I mean by the time we got to Sundance, Danny and I were just so excited by the project that we were just hopping. They often say that if the experience is really nice and light and everything is sort of giggly, you have a really shitty movie on your hands. It really should feel a little more challenging because at the end of the day you’re trying to make something that’s a permanent work of art. It should feel high stakes. The reality is that the thing that makes something difficult, and so much of life, is climbing that figurative mountain. When it’s a low budget movie it’s automatically going to be challenging for reasons that have nothing to do with anybody’s personalities or the script, for example. Even the fact that we’re in a freezing location and we don’t know anyone in town, is, in itself, the result of a budget constraint. I think the hardest part of the movie was just the business side, such as Danny not being able to get everything he wanted to shoot in a day, and the heartbreak of that. That was really what created the high stakes and tension on set. So then, because Danny and I are friends and like minded, it became a very us-against-them. I mean I think we’re just wired that way in the first place, that kind of anarchy spirit. In one case we had financiers who didn’t really care what the movie was, but it kind of fit in their tax incentives. Some of the producers were great, don’t get me wrong, but some were just awful. You’re just in a sticky situation where some people completely get the vision of the film and are on your side, and some people don’t care and just want to make the schedule for the tax incentives. Meanwhile, you have this real auteur who wants to make an art film and sometimes all you have is one shot at doing it right. So sometimes in end up in a situation where you have your back against the wall. Danny and I would find ourselves in situations where we’d aggressively be trying to steal shots and do it our way. If you read any history of filmmaking, and I love reading that history, you find that on some of your favorite films someone was in there fighting for their vision. Sometimes there are things you have to compromise and that’s really devastating. Seeing Danny at the monitor was like watching a kid in his happy place, just finally in his safe place.

Leora Heilbronn

Leora Heilbronn is a Toronto based film aficionado who has a weakness for musicals and violent action flicks. She can often be spotted reading a wide range of literature or listening to show tunes.