Natalie Dormer, Anthony Byrne Talk Challenges of Writing 'In Darkness' as a Couple

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Natalie Dormer and Anthony Byrne

The pair discuss their latest project, which Byrne also directed and Dormer stars in, and the advice they got from 'Game of Thrones' showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff.

For co-writers and couple Natalie Dormer and Anthony Byrne, inspiration for their new film In Darkness came from the most mundane of places: life as a downstairs tenant.

In the film, which Byrne also directed, Dormer (of Game of Thrones and Hunger Games fame) plays a blind pianist, Sofia, who overhears a struggle in the apartment above hers that leads to the death of her neighbor Veronique (Emily Ratajkowski). It is the start of a dark and twisty journey that pulls Sofia out of her depth and brings her into contact with Veronique’s father, a Serbian businessman accused of being a war criminal.

Byrne says the idea for the story first hit him when he was working on a different film and living in London. He says he never saw his neighbors, but would always hear a woman above him walking around in her heels. "She would click-clack in her heels and would never take them off and that was the first germ of an idea. And I kind of figured out the geography of her apartment and then started building a story from there, who this woman was," he says.

Dormer, frustrated with the roles she was being offered at the time, hopped on board as co-writer and star, and the two set out to make "the movie we wanted to watch."

Below, the duo talk to The Hollywood Reporter about their noir thriller, the challenges of writing as a couple and the advice Thrones showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff gave them.

Natalie, you play a character who is not only blind but a musician as well. How does one prepare for a role like that?

DORMER We spent a lot of time with the Royal National Institute of Blind People in London. We went in for a couple of days and met a lot of wonderful people who were very giving of their time, [and they] were different levels of partially sighted and blind. The RNIB debunked a lot of our assumptions and [told us] about light sensitivity — you need lights on in a movie and we realized that a lot of blind people do leave the lights on for security and also for assurance. We also did research into the Bosnian war, we tried to be as respectful as we could be to both masses, but ultimately we were just looking to make a slick genre movie.

As an actress, how different was the experience for you in becoming this character since you already were so acquainted with her?

DORMER It was 100 percent different. I co-wrote it, and it did us a favor really because we shot in only 25 days as independent filmmaking tends to be done, and we didn't have to waste precious time on set talking about characterization because we both knew all the characters inside out.
BYRNE Yeah it was a great shorthand between myself and Nat but also we built up a great rapport and relationship with Ed [Skrein, who stars in the film alongside Dormer] very quickly and I have some crew that I've worked with before and so it made it very concentrated and very focused when we got [on set].
DORMER Anthony and I have both been on each other's sets over the years, so we understood how each other works. And the wonderful thing about working with your partner when he's the director is he doesn't let you get away with anything. He was in a very unique position to challenge me and to support me as an actress. It was a great collaborative experience and it was a passion project for everyone involved, [certainly] no one was in it for the money. [Laughs.] It very much felt like it was a tight family.

Walk me through the writing process. Did you find yourselves writing together all of the time, or did you each tackle different parts? 

BYRNE We've since discovered that what we were doing was completely the wrong way to write together.
DORMER We learned quickly.
BYRNE Well, we learned quickly, but we didn't learn from our mistakes. [Laughs.] Because we didn't have an office or anything, we were in our own home writing, and then it would all kick off because we would disagree about something fundamentally or I would be a pain in the arse and I would challenge Nat, or myself. It's very easy to go, "Oh, don't worry about that, it's going to be fine," and you have to police that and in doing so you end up being the bad guy and end up having massive arguments. [Laughs.]
DORMER We learned to take a scene, individually, and then block it. And I spoke to David and Dan [Thrones' Benioff and Weiss] and they told me "Yeah, that's how you do it. You've got to write separately. Have a go at it and then pass it over."
BYRNE They were like, "You guys were trying to write in the same room?" And we were like, "Yeah, we've been doing that for years…"
DORMER Not years! We worked it out quicker than that.
BYRNE It doesn't feel like that. [Laughs.]
DORMER No, we did. We finally got into a rhythm, and then it's a new process when you bring in producers and all that. But I think In Darkness benefitted from all those intermediary years where we got distracted with other projects, because it meant every time we returned to the script, we returned with more knowledge or with fresh eyes and it grew. It got tighter because of the time it took.

Natalie, this was your first time writing and producing. Is directing next?

DORMER Oh god no. [I have] too much regard and reverence towards that. I guess I would never say never but I am much more interested in writing and development and producing at this moment. 

Any plans to work together in the future?

BYRNE I would love to. I had a great time directing Nat and we have that great shorthand. So yeah, any opportunity.
DORMER We do have very similar taste and respond to very similar stories and filmmakers, and the sensibility is the same, so again, never say never.

In Darkness hits theaters Friday.