I spoke with director Sean Durkin about his new film The Nest, how filmmaking works, Jude Law and Carrie Coon, and the difference between British houses and actual castles. Mild spoilers for The Nest to follow.
BOSTON HASSLE: What have you been up to between Martha Marcy May Marlene and The Nest?
SEAN DURKIN: I went to England and I made a four part miniseries for Sony called Southcliffe, which came out in 2013. That was a pretty epic undertaking. I’ve been producing, five movies. I’ve been writing, and I had some stuff in development that got very close to being made. I worked very hard on them for a long time and they didn’t happen. That was all happening alongside writing The Nest, which I started writing in 2014. I would write, take six months off, come back to it with some new life experience beside me. I became a parent in that time. It was this thing I kept coming back to. In 2017, I wrote a draft and shared it with my producing partner Rose Garnett and we just felt like it was ready. From there we just went for it and we were shooting within a year. The actual making of The Nest didn’t take that long. It was about timing and letting it grow. We got really great support around it when we were ready to make it.
BH: You managed to get Jude Law and Carrie Coon. When this was first announced, I was so excited for Carrie Coon to be the lead of a film. What led you to cast her as Allison?
SD: I got to know her a bit through friends. We had met a couple of times. And when my casting director and I were talking about Allison, we were throwing names around and she just said “What about Carrie?” I said, “Of course, I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of her.”
Allison is a tricky character. Oftentimes in movies there’s only space for characters to be one thing. She is at least two very clear things, if not more. I needed someone with the ability to ground both sides of her and make them believable. She has that ability and the power to do that. I felt she could make this one cohesive character.
BH: You talked about writing this film over a long period of time. Was the concept of the house there the whole time, or did it start as the story of a marriage? When did you decide the house would swallow them whole?
SD: That was part of the initial conception. I wanted a house that was going to embody Rory’s [Jude Law] dream. Rory is English, living in America, wanting the American dream, wanting to hit it big. There’s an opportunity for him to go back to England with this experience, go back to his hometown and prove that he’s “made it.” I wanted the house to embody this bigger and better attitude he was living by. But it couldn’t be too big. We looked at houses that were small castles, and that was too much, too ridiculous. I wanted something that was beyond the realm of a successful trader living in a big house in Surrey, but not to lose the audience with the castle.
It was an incredible place. It’s 700 years old. It also had a lot of wide open space inside, which most of these places don’t, not even the castles. It was the openness I needed to create the atmosphere, the sense that there’s something around every corner. I really wanted to embrace those haunted elements without the film going that far. I wanted to represent the isolation and eeriness of being in a place like this.
BH: That’s how I felt watching it. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a ghost story halfway through. In some ways it is!
SD: There’s no ghost, but the haunting is the betrayal, the things they conceal from each other. They’re haunted by their own secrets in that way.
BH: Or haunted by a horse.
SD: Or a horse. Maybe there is one ghost in the movie.
BH: How do you feel about the film’s accidental resonance during the pandemic, with most people stuck at home with their families?
SD: I hadn’t really thought about it much at first, because we were focusing on the release and promotion. I wasn’t thinking about it on a story level. People have been together with their families in closer quarters than maybe ever the last six months. It’s interesting timing.
BH: The movie is so much about Rory and Allison’s marriage, but what happens to them affects their kids. Could you talk about the role of their children?
SD: The children get pulled through all this stuff, which is quite common. I remember growing up and hearing, “Oh, kids are adaptable.” Now I have a daughter, and I don’t think that’s true. Kids can adapt a certain amount, but it all goes somewhere. That was part of wanting to do this. Without hammering it home, I wanted to say, “Yes, they’ll be affected by this. But by how much, who knows?”
But also, Rory and Allison are children. It was important for me to look at them with their parents and say “They’re just kids too.”
BH: When Rory visits his mother, you understand him a lot more instantly.
SD: Just getting a little insight into what’s driving his anger. Someone who’s driven by wanting to prove he’s not where he came from, doesn’t allow someone to quite be themselves. His journey is about how he finds himself.
BH: He never really slows down. So much of his character is about going from point to point.
SD: Exactly, it’s like a circus.
BH: What sort of advice would you have for burgeoning filmmakers and how to get movies made?
I had a company for years called Borderline Films. We started the company with a very clear plan, which was we all wanted to be directors and we wanted to create an environment where we could each make our first features exactly how we wanted to make them. We would do what we could to create the best film as possible, for the least money possible. We wanted that creative freedom. As my career’s gone on and I’ve ventured into other parts of the industry, I think that original idea we had is still at the forefront of my mind.
Surround yourself with people who are like minded, who you trust, who are good creative supports. Set out to make something you truly believe in and make it as high as quality as possible and as cheaply as you can. In an economical fashion. I think that’s the way forward and how great work gets made.
Development becomes about questioning the work, it’s so easy to lose track of what you actually want to make. If you make something that moves you, it will move other people. It may not move millions of other people, but it will move somebody.
Dir. Sean Durkin
Now available on demand, and screening at Kendall Square Cinema
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