Film, Interview

INTERVIEW: “Please Baby Please” Director Amanda Kramer

The director of the recent festival darling on dance, relationships, and sensuality


I spoke with Amanda Kramer, the director of the hypnotic film Please Baby Please, which recently won the grand jury prize for Outstanding US Narrative Feature at Outfest 2022. Her work forces her characters to look inward and express their true feelings, and we discussed these choices below.

Boston Hassle: Please Baby Please, got to watch it over the weekend, loved it. I knew Cole Escola was in it, but I didn’t know about the whole cast, and that was very exciting. Can I ask about Cole and Demi Moore participating in the film? They do these monologues when they show up and they take over.

Amanda Kramer: Cole is the best. What can I say? Cole is fantastic. Long time fan of them and the content they create. Not attached to any film or tv, just what they create.

BH: Like ‘Bernadette Peters Does Her Taxes’.

AK: All day long I could watch that. But every time Cole shows up on something, like Search Party, it gives you that feeling that you’re in for something thrilling. What director doesn’t want to add that sensation to their own work? Having Cole, I knew I was gonna have great moments.  Demi Moore, similarly. Borrowing from an icon, a Hollywood legend.

BH: I wanted to talk about your inspirations. I was getting a lot of James Bigood, the ’70s gay porno-type stuff, but also a lot of West Side Story and Little Shop of Horrors?

AK: You did it. That’s basically everything! I suggest everyone rewatch Little Shop of Horrors. Every time you just put on the opening, you are just like, “Holy shit! Hollywood used to do it right!” It’s beautifully shot. James Bigood is one of my favorite photographers of all time, so naturally he came up. I was going across all the fetish stuff, like Cruising with Al Pacino, one of my favorite movies.

BH: I love all that stuff too, so it was nice to see a movie like Please Baby Please really center that. With Little Shop of Horrors, there’s so much you can read into it. People like to say it’s about a T4T relationship, things like that. There’s a lot of queer things you can read into, and Please Baby Please gets to go all in on those themes with Andrea Riseborough and Harry Melling. Can you talk about the relationship between their characters, Arthur and Suze?

AK: It’s a traditional, heteronormative-seeming, 1950s bohemian relationship. You imagine they probably got married young, maybe they dated in high school, moved to the city, decided to be weirdos and jazz musicians, to know artists and poets. That felt very bohemian and progressive at the time, I’m sure. Sexually, and within their genders, I’m sure a couple like that was struggling with truth and sincerity and identity. That’s where we find them, in the search for that. They love each other, but they’re also wandering and wondering. It’s a movie about awe within the dynamic of a couple.

BH: That’s what I appreciate about the dynamic of their relationship. They weren’t in danger of leaving each other; they were getting closer to their true selves within this committed relationship. The relationship for them is an immutable fact, but everything else can change.

AK: Can a marriage survive when your partner really knows you? That’s a question we can all ask. To be known is a very scary thing. To reveal yourself is a very scary thing. They are attempting over these 95 minutes or so to reveal their true natures to each other and see where that lands them. 

BH: Can you talk about working with Andrea Riseborough? She’s something of a chameleon, every time I’ve seen her she’s totally different. From Nancy to The Death of Stalin, she’s so transfixing to watch.

AK: Andrea is one of the greatest actors of my generation, undoubtedly, because she has an attraction to losing herself in a role. There are a lot of actors who show up and want their look, their hair, their voice, what they have to offer, and you are coasting on their wave of famous celebrity. Andrea is the opposite. She is a genuine actor. She comes from a theatrical background, she wants to lose herself in the role and she wants to embody character. Therefore, every time you see her, she’s new. Therefore, every time she’s new, she’s slightly unrecognizable. Thus, she has a very interesting and unique career on the edge of Hollywood. It’s always so exciting to see her and she’s always so fun. I love Andrea when she’s funny. Death of Stalin, Birdman, I love watching her do that.

BH: She’s in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky, I want to say?

AK: Longtime collaborator of Mike Leigh. When someone is that good at acting and they’ve memorized your lines, you just stand back and witness. There’s no directing Andrea, in a way. If she deeply understands your script and deeply understands what you want, she’s just giving it to you. And all you’re doing is modulating on a dial that is so slight. She can do the extremity or nuance you need, you just have to let her know. You just say “we’re going to do 11, so you do what 11 looks like to you” and she’ll give you like ninety versions of 11 and you have everything you need for your edit. There’s nothing like watching Andrea perform your own words.

BH: You can set her on the path and watch the magic happen.

AK: It’s very fun.

BH: Where did you shoot?

AK:  Butte, Montana! Freezing cold, Butte, Montana. Very odd. When we showed up in Montana, I remembered thinking “I don’t know how I will pull this off, but I have no choice and I must.” Butte has a sort of out-of-time feeling to it, a mix of architecture of all different eras. It lacks that contemporary overhaul that even New York has. You can’t shoot a 1950s movie in NYC unless you’re Martin Scorsese. There’s a Chase Manhattan in your shot. Butte didn’t feel like that. It had some “land that time forgot” streets. We were able to come in and do some great art direction and production design. My cinematographer is creating functional frames, and within those frames it’s 1950s Manhattan. Outside those frames, it’s 2020 COVID Butte. You’re just seeing what’s inside the box.

BH: What’s something you learned specifically on this production? Was there a new idea or technique you tried?

AK: I’ve always loved dance and I always want to incorporate it into my work. This was the first time I got to work with a choreographer and that changed my mentality. I want a choreographer for the rest of my career. I learned what movement can do for your story and how much you can tell with it, how much ecstasy can come from helping your actors move their bodies in unison. I loved that experience.

BH: These dances can be so hypnotic, they really suck you in.

AK: To bring it back to Little Shop of Horrors, when was the last time you watched the John Huston Annie? I would suggest if you have ten minutes free to watch “It’s the Hard Knock Life.” It’s one of the greatest things that’s been put on film. It is a great director understanding how dancers fill a frame and how to tell a story through movement. It’s so much fun. You’re ready to watch the rest of Annie, which is not as great, but it makes you feel good the whole time. It gets you through a lot of weird Daddy Warbucks stuff. 

BH: It’s a complex film.

AK: Yes it is.

BH: Do you have any projects lined up?

AK: Give Me Pity is in festivals right now, it’ll screen more next year and we’ll have a blu-ray, all that jazz. I’m always working, I always have scripts out in the world, one with Andrea. I hope I get to make it because I love working with her. Always writing, always imagining. Hopefully another movie soon.

BH: Is there anything you’ve been able to watch or see among the festivals?

AK: Oh I watch it all, I just watched TÁR, I just watched Triangle of Sadness. I’m doing my diligence, but I was waiting for those with clenched fists. It was like a dam breaking. When you want to see something so badly, and then (hyperventilating). I hope Cate Blanchett is recognized for the rest of her career for that performance. Todd Field, what a cool weirdo. I would love to think he was relaxing, like he was thinking “I’m gonna wait, then I’ll make something fantastic. I’m gonna take a minute.” The rest of us are always moving to the next thing, but it seems like Todd got to take a step back first.

BH: Who are some of the actors you’d most like to work with?

AK: So many. Everyone from Tim Roth to Christian Slater. That’s a gigantic spectrum. There are people that have created such iconic roles, and as every year goes by and we lose one… I remember when Madeline Kahn died and I was like “I’ll never get to meet Madeline Kahn!” Not that I was in line to, but in your fantasy of the world you are.

There’s an actress named Geneviève Bujold that I’m obsessed with, but I’m not sure if she acts anymore. Liv Ullmann is directing now and no longer acting, but I would love that. The person I really really want to work with is Denzel Washington. He would never in a million years, but!

BH: You never know! Our big actors are taking these huge swings, like everything Tom Hanks has been doing. I could see Denzel going for it.

AK: From your lips to Denzel’s ears.

BH: Thinking about these iconic roles, you have Harry Melling who started out as Dudley in Harry Potter. He’s just been amazing in everything I’ve seen since Buster Scruggs.

AK: He is going to be amazing for the rest of our lives. He is amazing. He’s going to play Edgar Allan Poe in something with Christian Bale, and he’s going to be so good. You’re going to be like, “Christian Bale, move! Get out of the shot!”

BH: Anything else you want to add?

AK: I’m just really happy it’s out now. We make these things with so much time between the making and the seeing, it’s wonderful when the seeing comes. It’s the culmination of a long journey. Thanks for watching!

BH: No spoilers, but I really want to watch the last dance again. They’re working it out!

AK: Harry dancing at the end of the movie breaks my heart, it’s great.


Please Baby Please opens at the AMC Liberty Tree Mall and AMC Methuen this Friday, 10/28 with more locations to follow and a VOD release on 11/29

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