The stars came out at AFI Fest for Noel Wells’ directorial debut, Mr. Roosevelt. The story of a wannabe actress called back to her Austin home to bury her cat has capture attention since winning the Audience Award at this year’s SXSW festival. Wells and cast stopped by to talk to The Young Folks about the film.
You’re writing, directing, producing, starring. How do you juggle all these elements and get sleep in?
I just now started to sleep. It’s been two years and I’ve been struggling to catch up on it. You just go into this weird, superhuman mode that eventually catches up with you. Who knows what the next two years of my life will be. Maybe I’ll just stay in bed.
We’ve seen the story about young woman goes back home and learns how to deal with life. Did you intentionally set out to subvert that story?
At every turn. Every time there was a thing that was supposed to happen, something you’ve seen, I always try to flip or undercut it in some way. I never wanted the story to feel particularly comedic, even though the idea of it is a trope. Like for instance that the person she’s coming home for is a cat; it’s not her father or mother, or a best friend. Every turn I tried to take an absurd thing and change her reaction to it.
I find it so unique that the film’s about a cat. How did you settle on it being about a cat?
I had written a version of this script where it wasn’t a cat, it was a dog that Emily irresponsibly loses. I didn’t know that I wanted her to have a responsibility to something that people can brush under the rug. The cat came to me because I have a cat who stared me down one day and said, “You’re so self-obsessed and pitying.” I really care about animals and a lot of people around me don’t understand that. Everybody has their problems, and no one quite understands it so I thought it’d be the perfect proxy for everyone’s problems that no one understands.
This plays well alongside Lady Bird, also written and directed by a female and a hometown story. What do you think the draw is for this type of narrative?
I think it’s a universal thing. It’s just human to go home, to something from the past. I don’t know it’s a female thing. Maybe females have a better way of synthesizing that experience and looking at it from a more realistic point of view.
Don’t tell the other castmembers but you were my favorite in the movie! How did you work with Noel to create the character of Jen?
There’s a lot of pressure for this part because it’s actually based off someone Noel knew in real life who was a very good friend of hers; this cool, pixie punk Mexican girl who was a drummer, so there was a lot of pressure to honor that person. Noel’s a genius and did a very good job of informing me and giving me the sense of this person’s energy.
What was it like throwing water in Noel’s face because that happens a lot in this movie?
It was so much fun! We did that till four in the morning and I was so fucking tired. By the time we got to that it was such a wake-up, and she’s game. I love throwing water in people’s faces, if it’s consensual water throwing.
You are an amazing drummer in this movie. Was that all you or did you have a drumming double?
I did my own fucking drumming! And that’s my drumming in the trailer.
Screw Ryan Gosling learning to play piano for La La Land, you win!
Your character could have very easily been a villain. How did you work with Noel to find the sympathy that’s needed to make the character multifaceted?
That’s very kind of you. It’s always my position to step into a character’s shoes and to realize they don’t think they’re the bad guy in any situation and give them as much empathy as possible. Noel was on-board with that as well. Celeste isn’t trying to be anything more than accommodating to Emily.
And that’s in spite of being set-up as this prototypical hipster.
Right, but hipster does not mean antagonist, and yet in this film the antagonist happens to be a hipster. And yet, what I think Emily realizes the antagonist isn’t Celeste, but herself.
It subverts the stereotype of the villainous new girlfriend.
How did the plotline about animals connect with you? I love how Emily doesn’t want to make a big deal out of it being “just a cat,” yet it connects with so many people.
I grew up with animals in the middle of Illinois and we had lots of cats and dogs. It’s such a personal experience with every animal, and I think this film will resonate with people who have a particular connection with their animal and know what it means to mourn.