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Drake Doremus loves making movies about love.
His breakout film, 2011’s Like Crazy, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, followed two recent college grads, played by Felicity Jones and the late Anton Yelchin, who are separated due to issues with visas and must battle immigration authorities, while also fighting doubts about their own relationship.
The California native followed that with Breathe In, another Sundance selection, which starred Jones as a foreign exchange student who has an affair with a high school music teacher, played by Guy Pearce.
With Equals, his newest film, Doremus continues his exploration of love and relationships, this time within the context of a futuristic society where humans have eradicated all emotion. Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart star as Silas and Nia, co-workers who discover they have developed the ability to feel and begin a secret romance.
The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival, going on to Toronto, after which it was picked up by indie distributor A24, which is releasing the dystopian sci-fi love story today.
Doremus talked to The Hollywood Reporter about the real-world inspiration behind Equals and why Nora Ephron’s When Harry Met Sally is the perfect airplane movie.
What was the inspiration for Equals?
I had this basic concept: As we evolve away from human contact through social media and online dating, is love necessary for human being to function and progress as a race?
How did you go about casting the film?
I kidnapped them and forced them to do the movie. They are actually not onscreen under their own will. [Laughs] I had actually met Nick through mutual friends and immediately wanted to find something for him. You know, you meet actors through generals and you never end up doing anything together and Nick was the first exception to this. When we started to build the character of Silas, I told [screenwriter] Nathan [Parker] that he was this guy. We wrote the part for him.
How did Kristen come on board?
I met with a few different actresses for the role, but as soon as I met Kristen I knew she was the perfect person for Nia. She is such a strong, convicted person but there is also so much vulnerability. The dynamic between the two of them was perfect. We rehearsed in Tokyo for a week before we started shooting and we did a lot of exercises where they could build up their character’s childhoods and pasts, growing up without feeling anything. From there, we did a bunch of trust exercises between just [Nick and Kristen]. They had never worked the way I work, either, and had never done improvisational work like this. So, the week of rehearsals was very important.
Equals and Yorgos Lanthimos‘ The Lobster, which are both in theaters now after having made the festival rounds, both center on relationships in oppressive future societies that lack emotion. Why do you think we are seeing films like these now?
I think it is a topic that is of concern for some people, I know it is for me. I can see myself making more films that focus on human beings and how we date and find each other and fall in love and how constant the turnover is, like how you can just move and keep swiping. It’s just crazy to think about how quickly it is all changing. Like in five, six years what kind of algorithms will humans have come up with to try and define how you find something.
How difficult was making making a futuristic film on a smaller budget?
For me it was a big movie… $20 million — or whatever it was — was massive for me. Previously, the biggest movie I made was five million dollars, so I had a lot more storytelling tools at my disposal. We have 750 VFX shots in the film, so I had to teach myself about that, which was frustrating. [Laughs] At the same time, it felt like me and my little team, that I have worked with for eight years, making our intimate little love story.
Do you think you will continue doing bigger-budgeted projects?
That’s a thing I have been wrestling with since Like Crazy. There are two very different routes to go on, and after I made that film I could have gone the much more commercial, mainstream route but it didn’t feel right. I am much more open to it now, as opposed to four or five years ago when I was like ‘F—k this, I just wanna make my film and do what I want to do.’ But now I am more open to it, if it’s the right films and the right story. I want to make small films and intimate films and I want to make big films with small, intimate content.
Other directors of well received indies have immediately gone on to direct big movies like Jurassic World or a Star Wars movie.
Well, that’ s not me. [Laughs]
Do you have a dream actor you want to work with?
I have worked with a lot of my dream actors, so I’ll start by saying that, but I love Benicio del Toro.
What are you reading right now?
I am reading a lot of self-help books. No, just kidding. [Laughs] I am always reading love stories.
Are you a fan of rom-coms?
Sometimes, yeah. I love Four Weddings and a Funeral and When Harry Met Sally. I’ll watch [When Harry Met Sally] on any plane because it’s the perfect amount of — my soul gets filled up but it’s also light so I can sit back and relax and eat my loaf of bread on the plane to wherever I am going.
Are you looking forward to any particular summer movie?
Oh shit. That’s a tough question. I don’t see a lot of them to be honest. I see a lot of movies but I don’t know what’s coming out.
Coming up there is Jason Borne and Suicide Squad.
Anything with an action sequence that’s longer than a minute and a half — I’m usually out. I am not your guy, but I will try and watch them.
What about Rogue One with Felicity Jones?
Yeah! I am so, so proud of her. She is so kick-ass and she is going to kick so much ass in that movie and bring so much depth to her character too. That is a movie I am looking forward to. I will be there opening night.
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