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AUSTIN — How would you react if one of your best friends invited you to their birthday party only to find out that the evening might be the last time you saw that friend alive?
That’s the premise of Good Night, an ensemble dramedy written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Sean Gallagher, with a cast that includes Adriene Mishler (upcoming Joe with Nicolas Cage), Jonny Mars (A Teacher) and Alex Karpovsky (HBO’s Girls).
Shot in the suburbs of Austin, the film, which premiered Monday at SXSW, explores coming-of-age friendships when faced with a tragic, irreversible situation. Gallagher uses dark humor, debauchery and juxtaposed reactions to tell a vivid story of growing up and how one person’s suffering can affect an entire houseful of people in dramatically different ways.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Gallagher, along with actors Mars and Karpovsky, discussed the inspiration for the film, what it was like navigating characters through such a challenging situation and the state of the Austin film community.
The Hollywood Reporter: Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
Sean Gallagher: There are probably several inspirations. The first one being wanting to investigate the idea of what it would be like — whether you’re the teller or the tellee –- to say, “I might not make it very much longer,” and wanting to get into the kind of the power of those emotions. There’s confusion and a lot of weird emotions that come out of that. That’s the original inspiration. And then a lot of things come out of it from my thoughts about being alive and taking different paths in life and what it might mean that life doesn’t keep going on. It’s not just about one thing. I tried to make it about as much stuff as possible because that’s more fun for me.
THR: The ensemble cast is made up of very clear and specific character archetypes: the concerned husband, the ex-boyfriend, the ambitious power couple, the newly christened parents, the exotic looking conspiracy theorist, and so on. As the screenwriter, where did you draw all of them from?
Gallagher: Once I knew that the couple was at the heart of it, I tried to make sure that the people at the party would all be living different types of lives, and in a way, hoping that each one of these pathways would be juxtaposed against the stopping of the pathway. And that people, because everyone’s different, would relate to different people within the movie. So there are some people pursuing material success, some are interested in children, some are interested in art, some are trying to do this life thing with someone else, and some people are pretty committed to doing whatever they want. So there are these different things that people have tried, and usually what we find is when people relate to a certain person in the film, it also says something about who they are. When the film is over and we ask who’s your favorite [character], it’s never the same answer.
THR: Alex, your character is the polar opposite to Ray in Girls. You play this lawyer who’s successful and has his stuff together, it seems. He’s probably the most successful, status wise, out of the group. What was it like for you to play this type of character?
Alex Karpovsky: Well, I filmed this pre-Girls, but just a little bit pre-Girls. But it was wonderful. I like doing things that are different. I like doing things that are unfamiliar and most of the stuff I do is comedy and certainly on Girls it’s comedic for the most part. So yeah, it was a challenge. It was a source of enthusiasm. It’s also nice to play a character who is married and who does have a job and who does have fierce ambition. All that was really fun to do. And also it’s just fun to do something that’s so grounded in authenticity and naturalism. So those were all sort of driving forces for why I wanted to work on this movie.
THR: How did you get involved in the film? Were all of you friends prior? Did you audition? How did that work out?
Karpovsky: I used to live in Austin from 2007-09 and I met Jonny Mars during that time. And we were good friends and Jonny produced the movie, so he told Sean about me. Jonny thought I could play this role and then fortunately Sean put me in the movie. So that’s how it started.
THR: Jonny, your role as the husband taking care of his sick wife has probably the most emotional arc in the film. What was it about this material that made you want to produce it and ultimately star?
Jonny Mars: I don’t get to play roles like this. So for me, it was a challenge. I usually get asked to play bigger, externalized characters. And this character was very subtle and very under the surface and there was a lot going on that you wouldn’t know at first glance. So that, to me, was an interesting challenge. Sean and I have known each other since we were teenagers. So he’s not just a colleague, he’s basically family. Sean has a unique voice and the movie needed to be made and anything I could do to help make this project happen, I would show up and do.
THR: The use of the personal vignettes in the film was really interesting. You only used three when one might assume they’d get a glimpse of every partygoer’s view of what’s going on, but we didn’t. Why was that choice made?
Gallagher: Each one essentially represents a [different narrative]: the first one’s third person, the second one is second person, and the last one was first person. And each one, hopefully, is like peeling back the layer of the onion a little bit more, letting you get a little bit more in. We didn’t need all [of them]. We didn’t need a bunch of third person points of view. The party is the social point of view. But it was good to be able to contradict, because a lot of the party is very vague. And the dialogue’s very ambiguous in the way that they talk. So [the personal vignettes] are these moments of pure information we could get across very quickly. That was the point of it.
THR: Austin has a really unique film community. All of you guys have lived and worked here. Alex, you’re living in New York now. What’s it like coming back here for you? Have you seen the growth of the film community?
Karpovsky: Definitely. I think it’s an idyllic city in many ways. It’s not only pretty and affordable, but there’s a really rich film community here and a really solid foundation and infrastructure to make movies, increasingly more and more. A lot of my New York friends are moving here, and there’s a reason why they’re moving this way rather than the other way for the most part. It’s just a really beautiful place. I wish we shot Girls here and I wish all my friends moved here. My life would be paradise.
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