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In an interview with Good Night writer/director Sean Gallagher and actors Alex Karpovsky and Jonny Mars, the three discuss the inspiration behind the film, as well as Karpovsky’s and Mars’ characters’ personalities and reactions to the grave news they receive. After all, it’s not everyday that you receive news that a loved one is terminally ill.
Sean, you wrote and directed the film, right?
Sean Gallagher: I did.
What was the inspiration behind Good Night?
SG: I suppose the inspiration was wanting to create a scenario where you would find out something really serious about your friend and, in this case, that they might have a terminal illness, and to be confronted with what that means. And have this night dealing with your friend’s troubles and your own troubles.
So the night was supposed to be her last night to truly live and for them to celebrate life and her life, right?
SG: I don’t know if I would see it that way, but that is a reading that I would be open to. I tried to create it so that there would be multiple readings that you could look at it and come away thinking what you said, and also [so] you could have different readings of what you saw.
There were a lot of subplots, and a big theme I noticed were these relationship strains between all of the different couples. Do you feel that that kind of aided the main plot?
SG: Well, I think the idea was as soon as she drops the bomb, so to speak, that the friends and the social structure begins to weaken, or braces against this impact of this news. Everyone begins to cope with it in a way that they know how to, or that it’s natural to them, and some of those coping mechanisms are positive, and some are negative, and some go straight against each other. From, “I want to get out of here,” to “Why won’t you stay,” or in any kind of variety, like “I’m going to get out of this by making a lot of jokes, or just drink so much that I won’t remember anything, anyway.” I mean, I think each one of the characters has a different way of dealing with life.
A big thing I noticed was your [Alex Karpovsky] character’s wife, she was kind of the sourpuss of the group, so to speak. Do you feel that that was a reaction to the news or her character’s disposition?
Alex Karpovsky: I think it’s largely motivated by Jake’s strange, peculiar, and idiosyncratic way of coping, and it’s definitely agitating tensions, which were already in place, in their relationship. She’s probably the first in the group to kind of… When you call her a sourpuss, I think that’s definitely just Jake pushing buttons that, I feel, he knows he’s pushing as a way to cope. I think a lot of people cope in a way that’s unhealthy and counterproductive, or misdirected, or perverse, and one of the ways Jake copes is kind of way letting go of his wife, forcing her to leave.
Do you see that more as him supporting his friend or acting negatively towards his wife?
AK: Both? You [Gallagher] take this one.
SG: Yeah, I would say it is both. I think there’s an idea in it, and I don’t know how much it comes across, but his wife is actually the one he most wants to talk to. Yet, their relationship is strained for various reasons, and she doesn’t really want to stay and talk with him. His friends would like to hang out with him, and so it’s frustrating to him what happens, and I think when you’re frustrated, when you’re tired, when you’ve had a few drinks, you don’t always respond honorably. I don’t know that it’s… we tried to make it more organic where it wasn’t quite so formulated; his character’s kind of reacting to what’s going on.
SG: He wants her to stay, and one of the reasons he loses his cool is because she doesn’t want to. He’s saying, “I like you. Please stay and help me deal with this. Loosen up a bit, as well.” Because she doesn’t, he gets mad at her, but it’s because he likes her, because he wants her to be around.
You just mentioned an organic reaction. Was the film improvised in any way, or were you guys going straight off a script?
SG: It was a mix. The script was pretty polished, but it was always intended that improv would be a part of it, if even for best practices in terms of acting. This is my trying to get inside their head, but they would say this much more eloquently than me, but when you know the other actor may not… the next line may or may not come from the script, you have to be there, you have to be listening. That’s why they seem to really be with each other in those moments.
Especially since they’re reacting to such huge news, too.
SG: But I think, yeah, pure improv stuff is annoying to me in that it doesn’t really seem to go anywhere.
That’s true. You got to stay on the rails.
SG: Yeah, you’re theoretically telling a story. There’s awesome improv stuff that I’ve seen that’s very verite, and I love it, but there is this temptation to just riff [and] put together a best hits edit, and then be like, “Ha! Isn’t it funny?” I think if you are going to put so much effort into something, you should really think of the structure of it ahead of time and be willing to throw it all away to help the actors out, if you can, and to help the editor out, too.
Jonny, your character, Winston, he’s the lead role. He has to deal with not only the huge news that’s affecting her life, but also affecting his life. There are moments in the film where it seems like… he was very supportive of her, but he also held this [against] her, so to speak. Do you feel that there’s a true love between them, or it’s gotten to that point where he’s just gotten tired of it?
Jonny Mars: I think that’s real life. I think if you give to someone for long enough, you’re going to want something in return. I think that, yes, the impetus of this film, between these two characters, is an act of love. But I do think, also, that it is real life. Even Mother Teresa had issues with her position. You can only give so much, and at some point, you might snap, right? We are humans; we are not robots. I don’t find it unbelievable to think that someone who gives all of his time and money to ease someone’s suffering, and ultimately can not, would snap. That to me is real life. I’ve had enough girlfriends to prove that.
Another question for you and Sean: That ending was kind of… I would say it was a little confusing. Could you explain that a little bit? It seemed like there were two different lines going on.
SG: Yeah, it’s a deviation from what occurs before, trying to get at what the whole thing’s been leading to. I like the confusion that’s created because, and it’s all very intentional, I want there to be confusion, and I want the audience to decide for themselves what to think. I don’t want it to be obvious; I want very smart people to argue with each other about what they saw, and I think you have to be willing to say, “I’m going to show you something, but I’m not going to hold your hand while you watch it, and you’re welcome to take what you want from it.” There’s not some sort of message that I need you to get where it’s like, “Okay, I want you to realize that friendship matters,” something trite like that. It’s intentional, so my hands are kind of tied in the sense that I don’t want to tell you what to think about it, or what it even is. I would much rather hear what other people think about it. I don’t know Jonny’s thoughts about it.
JM: I agree with Sean. I feel like, in playing the role, it’s about an act of love, and you can run with that however you want. I felt like, for Adriene [Mishler] and I to play the roles, we always talked about it being an unconditional act of love, and it’s not supposed to provide an answer. What are prescripted drugs? What are they doing? Are they an answer? How do you alleviate pain, you know? What’s the answer? I don’t know.