Interview: Ry Russo-Young (Nobody Walks)


The second interview of my press junket for Nobody Walks (following the interview with Justin Kirk) was with the film’s director, Ry Russo-Young. At the ripe young age of 30, Russo-Young has begun leaving her mark on the indie film scene with a handful of awards for her previous films, which include a Silver Hugo award for her short, Marion, at the 42nd Chicago International Film Festival. With Nobody Walks, she was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Read on as she gave my group a little insight behind the film.

Since “Nobody Walks“, how much walking did you do peddling this film?

Well, it was an interesting kind of film. There’s always a lot of prep and hard work that goes into it before shooting… everything. And even now, you make a baby, you want to see it in the world and hope that it’s understood and received, and that people get what the hell you’re talking about, you know?

Where did the genesis of this story come from?

I think it came from the fact that… I was in my late 20s and Lena [Dunham] was in her early 20s. I think that, for both of us as young women in the world making art, we were both interested in that… in what it was like being a young woman in the world making art. Sometimes when I hear young female artists, there’s the knee-jerk reaction of “Oh God…” and so I think as women who are trying to take ourselves seriously within that, but also understand how ridiculous it is when you’re also young and trying to make work, and you don’t have the confidence or the audacity to really… even necessarily put work out there and stand behind it. And so those ambiguities, as well as professional ambiguities in terms of sexuality, and when you’re working with someone how those relationships can become sexual in some way, and the messiness of all that. I think the movie definitely touches on that, sort of in various different realms.

Speaking to that point, you were talking about how you were relating to Olivia [Thirlby]’s character. Do you feel like India [Ennenga] played your younger self?

I feel like all the characters, including the male characters, are pieces of me, for sure. Like, I completely relate to John Krasinski being spurned by someone you thought loved you, or that was affectionate with you. I was in therapy when I was 16, so the therapy relationship to me on both sides is… I mean, I was never a therapist, but it’s something that I remember I was always trying to figure out what my shrink was saying. She never talked about her life, but there’s almost a wall that they put up that you want to poke at with a stick. Which I think Justin [Kirk] did such a great job doing. Lena based Kolt on her younger sister a little bit. Her sister had had this bad run-in with an Italian tutor. So I think we felt like that was fair game.

Considering so much of this is parts of you throughout the years, is it safe to assume that you had an ant farm as a child?

I did not! I’m not into bugs at all. I’m the type of person who, like, if there were a water bug right over there, I’d run out of the room, but I think we were sort of into the idea. I mean, the bug thing came from a lot of different things. We knew a filmmaker who was really beautiful, and she made a movie about bugs, so we thought that was such an interesting character trait, that there’s this beautiful woman who talks about insects. We were just like, “What?!” So it was kinda based on her… also the fact that bugs don’t have emotions. They won’t be like, “You cheated on me, you ant!” So there’s some level in which she’s working within the realm of safety for her, and yet, she still manages to screw up.

Besides drop-dead gorgeous filmmakers, are there any filmmakers or characters that you loved and cherished that was inspiring or influential in your sensibilities?

I mean, there’s so many that it’s kinda like “Pick one.” In terms of the film within the film, the bug film, I looked a lot at Irma Vep by Olivier Assayas. There’s a film within a film in that, and it’s very experimental, and Maggie Cheung plays like a woman in a black catsuit and she’s jumping from rooftops. So there was a lot taken from that, as well as other experimental filmmakers that our team would be watching. And in terms of the movie, I was looking a lot at Los Angeles culture, everything from shortcuts to shampoo, and just that idealized golden seasons not changing basking in the sun…

Is there a reason you chose Silver Lake?

I think I believed that those people would live there, they would live in a house like that. It felt like the most real to me.

This is a really geeky confession, but I really enjoy these creative sound engineering the characters were doing in the movie. Are you more attracted to the writing and storytelling side, or do you actually like the technical side?

I like the technical stuff. I mean, I like it all. It’s just so much fun. The visual stuff is really fun for me, and I think it all just melds together in the best possible case actually. It’s visual storytelling, it’s aural storytelling, and so I love all the tools that we have access to in order to best tell this story, so it’s just about making everything kind of come to it’s fullest fruition possible. And to me, the movie is about this affair between these two people in some sense. Well, how are they falling in love? What is the intimacy that’s promoted through sound? There’s a real sexiness to sound that I haven’t totally seen in film before that’s struck me, or that was really amazing to kind of work with.

What was with Martine? She’s got a thing going on with Peter, she’s got a thing going on with the assistant…

She’s a total slut.

Then why are all of these guys fighting over her, especially the married men?

I think she’s in a place where she’s manipulative with her sexuality, but not necessarily conscious about the harm that she has on other people. And there’s this unfortunate way that a lot of people interact where you don’t want to see the effect you’re having on other people because it would mean you would have to change your own action, and so you’re sort of blissfully going through with blinders on in some way. And I think that’s a big part of being that age, and not yet owning your sexuality and your strength. I don’t think she’s quite gotten there yet. And at the end of the movie, it’s the dawn of her realizing that. When Rosemarie [DeWitt] says to her, “You’ll never see anyone from this family ever again,” there’s that, “Oh, maybe I can’t be this way.” It’s baby steps, and you want the character to mature, and she is, but I don’t think real people are that evolved. People do all kinds of crazy shit, and some of it is in this movie, but it’s a lot worse in real life.

Was part of that her coming from New York to LA? Was this her first time in LA?

I think she does feel out of her element as a person, being in this new place. I think it does feel very new and very foreign.

To build on her character’s sexuality, there’s an inference of an incident with her ex-boyfriend and the nude photos. Was there more insight to that that you guys shot?

I don’t think there was more that we shot that we cut from the movie, but there might have been more in my head that didn’t make it to the movie. It’s sort of the back story to her character that she kind of made a splash in the art world with these naked photos of her boyfriend in a gallery, and she ended up getting sued. So she’s kind of already had that one slap on the wrist lesson about the use of people in her work and manipulation, and she should have learned from that experience, or at least you hope she would’ve. And so this is her second offense, if you will, and maybe this time she’s going to begin to learn.

One of the interesting things about the film is that it is moralistic, but it’s moralistic without any judgements. How do you and Lena manage to walk that fine line?

I have no idea. It’s all Lena. I think part of it, for me personally, was relating to all of these characters, and seeing all of the empathy within all of them that nobody is really bad here.

Why did you cut out the scene in the gallery?

At the end? Because it didn’t feel like what the movie was about. To me, ending with this person still in LA, still reverberating with the experience is where the power is. It’s not whether she finishes the film or not, at the end of the day.

That’s what I wanted to know! Did she ever get that film done?

There’s a special feature coming that is the five-minute edit of the bug film called Scorpio.

Speaking of Justin’s character, do you think that his character thinks he needs to be in therapy, or is he manipulating and playing the game?

No, I think his character thinks that he needs to be in therapy, but probably for the manipulation that he partakes within the therapy. It’s a vicious cycle, but sometimes there’s people who go to therapy for all the wrong reasons, you know?

You have some interesting casting choices here, but probably the most interesting is John [Krasinski]. He’s a cheating little slime, but he remained so likable. What led you to him, and was it important to you that Peter stay likable?

That’s a really interesting question. I don’t think characters always need to be likable, but you never want to alienate an audience from the people that they’re watching, because they’re empathizing with them. We want to think there’s a piece of John in all of us, and we all make mistakes like he does, so I guess ultimately that it is important that he be human. Maybe not likable, but human is the important thing.