'Bad Behavior': Ben Whishaw and Director Alice Englert on Jennifer Connelly and Their Dark Comedy | Sundance 2023
Whishaw also gave us an update on Paddington 3, and Englert shared her hopes for the future.
Actress Alice Englert, who premiered her directorial debut "Bad Behaviour" at this year's Sundance Film Festival, can now add a writer-director to her resume middle. Following in the footsteps of her mother, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Jane Campion, Englert's feature film explores the tense relationship between Jennifer Connelly's Lucy and her daughter Dylan (Englert). A contemplative exploration of the mother-daughter relationship.
Lucy was a child actress whose turbulent past affected her deeply and caused problems in her relationship with her daughter. Seeking some respite from her anxiety, Lucy attends an initiation retreat with self-help guru Elon Bello, played by Emmy Award winner Ben Whishaw, who joins his fellow retreatees Do unorthodox exercises. Through a phone call with her daughter, a stunt coordinator who works in New Zealand, we see Lucy's codependency and her tendencies toward self-involvement that created the distance between them in the first place.
Englert and Wishaw stop by Collider Studio in Park City after the premiere of "Bad Behavior" to speak with Collider's Steve Weintraub. During their interview, Wishaw shared how Englert's "amazing insight" and her "sense of the absurd" drew him into the script. Englert also discusses her inspiration Takes from other filmmakers the on-shooting challenges — including directing via Zoom while catching COVID — and breaks down the personal and emotional stories of bad behavior. Whishaw talks about the status of Paddington 3, Englert teases what's next for her as writer-director, and they share some of Jennifer Connelly's hobbies with us. You can watch the interview in the player above, or read the full transcript below.
COLLIDER: So we're here to talk about bad behavior, I really have a lot of questions about your debut, but every time I see that gentleman sitting there, one of my favorite movies is Cloud Atlas and I always I want to bring it up so more people can see it. I want to commend you for this character and this movie. I just want to say how great it is.
ALICE ENGLERT: I agree, yes.
BEN WHISHAW: Nice to hear that, I really enjoyed that movie too. Yeah, you know, it seems like every year it finds more and more devotees. I feel slowly, slowly. i think it's kinda bad when it comes out. But I think people do find something now, after they post ^ENGLERT: I'm your date for the premiere.
WHISHAW: Alice was my date at the premiere.
ENGLERT: I like it too, I think it's great. I agree.
First of all, I didn't know that when I asked this question, but I think it's a really great movie, and I think it asks a lot of viewers, but it's beautiful.
Wishaw: I totally agree. Yes, maybe it's time.
Jump into Why I'm Talking to You. I really want to congratulate you on your film, I want to praise any film as a miracle and make your first feature film your own writing and directing. So I start at the very beginning for those viewers who haven't seen it, what have you been telling people? Just like when your friends and family ask them "what's your movie about?"
Englert: I guess I usually tell them - to be honest, I don't invest much in my friends and family because I Know they have to find it. But here, the festival or something, I think it's really about a guy trying to find their hero's journey and really stray from that and kind of blow up any chance of empathy but still come to a place that feels real , maybe more useful.
Ben, I know you have to be offered, and I'll say at least a script or two every once in a while, so, for the audience, can you talk about the characters you play? What is the material that says "I want to make this"?
WHISHAW: I play a character called Elon Bello, and Elon is a spiritual guru, a forward slash master, and he's an enlightened guy. He's written a lot of books about what it means to be enlightened and how other people can get it, and people are attending his retreats, including the central character played by Jennifer Connelly, whose character is called Lucy, Lucy's silent retreat at Elon Bello. Although it soon ceased to be silent. There is actually a lot of noise when retreating.
I'm attracted to Material. Well, it's hard to say because Alice and I have known each other for a long time. She's a very, very dear friend, I was in Alice's short "Family Bliss" and we shared a lot, didn't we? We actually almost finished another movie, Princess Schengen. So when it came through, I was super excited because I thought, "Wow, this is Alice's first finished feature film script." I was just blown away by her writing, the amazing insight she brought to people, relationships, and her incredible sense of absurdity, stupidity, and profundity mixed together in almost everything.
So I'm happy and fully aware that even if she's not a very close friend, I know I'll make it. You know, it's just a fantastic article.
You've worked with many directors, and I'm curious, what did you learn from the various filmmakers you've worked with, and what did you steal in your directorial debut? Is there anything you're like, "I'll never do that on my set."?
Englert: Oh, that's Such a good question. I think one of the things I stole was never trying to get it right or trying to make it perfect, but just always being interested in what space was working. It gives you a lot of latitude because if you start trying to repeat something, you get self-conscious and it takes you away from who the performer really is, it's like you have to navigate it somehow meta world, you know what? Yeah, I just don't want to lock anyone up. I want them to feel free because when you work with people like ben and jennifer they have so much talent and depth they have so much knowledge and so much power and you just don't want to be trying to be Smarter than anyone.
I just love being a fan of people, it's really fun to be able to try and give everyone a chance to enjoy what they do and have a chance to do it. I really don't think you need to punish people to behave well. I think sometimes we think of a director or a talent as having some kind of personality, and I think that's simply not true. I think sometimes that stuff, that aggression, that domination is using talent as an excuse to move on. That's something I really don't want to do or experience. I've worked with a lot of directors who don't, and it's beautiful, but it's still raw and tough and deep and funny, but you know, you don't get a huge therapy bill out of it. I don't think it's necessary.
Whishaw: No, absolutely not.
ENGLERT: Everything is weird and difficult enough.
You obviously have to do this on a budget. When you look at your schedule and see how many shoot days you have, what are you most nervous about [about] the challenge of completing the schedule?
ENGLERT: You know what, I just have to believe we're good enough, and anything that goes wrong, or anything that can go wrong, has to be seen as an incredible plot twist. because We were on a very small schedule and not the biggest budget, and I got COVID on day one. I got COVID on the first day of filming. So I directed the opening scene from my bedroom [on] a Zoom with a bad connection, with a slight fever. It was an incredible exercise in trust.
I remember seeing Jennifer on screen and knowing, I know you can't make a movie for everyone. Although, I'm really surprised how many people actually like our particularly crazy, unusual movies, but I remember when I saw Jennifer go through it, I knew I could see the movies I wanted to make. It's also a reminder [of], "Let people do their jobs, you don't need to be on them all the time."
I have to ask, do you have any serious cases of COVID? How long have you been...
Englert: I'm lucky. Not bad. So we just took the government prescription and I was really lucky to not have long term COVID either. So when I finish my time, I can come back. actually i think It's like -- I don't know, maybe it's just so exciting to actually go on set and make this damn movie. I still feel like I can't believe this happened, thank you for being so interested in the conversation.
Whishaw: But not only did you mentor other people, but, miraculously, it seems to me, you also mentored yourself in some way. Alice also plays a very important role in this movie and does a great job. how did you find it
Sorry, I was just asking a question.
It's great that I put my heart and soul into your question.
Whishaw: Can I? I really want to know.
I want you to ask her questions, because you have a different perspective on the whole craft than I ever have, and your insight is... do you know what I mean?
WHISHAW: Sorry, I didn't come to ask a question, but I haven't had a chance to ask you what it's like to direct yourself.
ENGLERT: I've noticed that sometimes in interviews, people will ask you things and you'll say, "I don't know." I really just think, "Damn, I would Mouth full of nonsense on this subject!
Whishaw: Yeah, but you don't know?
Englert: I know some things, but I really don't. I just look in people's faces because I know very well if they hate it, you know huh? [laughs]
I just think I have a gut feeling, I do want to... I really want it to feel personal and real as a story, I don't want to force the actors to tell the story or fight anyone against di Len. And I know I need to really, really be there for Lucy, I know I can, I don't know, I just know I can respect Jennifer's strength, I can... I just, I don't know. Yeah, I don't know, what the hell? [Laughs]
WHISHAW: I don't know what I want to hear.
ENGLERT: I just looked at the faces of Desray [Armstrong] and [Molly O'Shea] and [was ] It’s like, “Well, I think it’s okay. " and then try everything, you know, try everything.
I don't want to do any spoilers at all Because no one has seen this movie, but one thing happened in the second act that I wasn't prepared for. I don't want to give anything away, but this is an important moment in the movie. How early did you know you wanted that?
Englert: That was from the beginning, from the beginning. I want to see... this person is so, so needy to escape their ego and their story. I've noticed that sometimes when you're embarrassed and ashamed of yourself, your mind gets really quiet, it's like your ego... like a publicist can't think of anything anymore To have something to do with you. Like, "You're hopeless." Suddenly there was silence. Like in these moments, you feel a deep defeat, "Oh yeah, that's what life is about." And then once it's all going well, you start to get back into yourself.
So I really, really want to see the story of someone trying to navigate their life, their ego, and their inability to win that arm wrestling. They're like, "Okay, I'm going to take our It's all down," and then think about what's left in the wreckage, you know? ^100%. I don't generally talk about other family members, but you have one family member who is a talented filmmaker Man, just a little bit, I'm curious, how nervous were you showing your mom this movie for the first time?
Englert: Well, she just read the script. When it was finished, I showed her , is about to finish, and she's really behind it.
So I'm nervous, and I'm nervous, because she tends to be very honest, and I really respect that, because I don't really want anything else. If she doesn't act If you don't show your integrity, then growing up in this industry can be more confusing, and she likes that. So I'm happy. I'm nervous, but I'm also excited, because I know this movie is hopeful, even though it Yes - I know it's a satire, but it's also sincere, and I know it's hopeful.
I know Lucy says "never give in to hope" and you say that, but I'm a Promising man. Yes, mine downfall.
I want to ask you a question that actually has nothing to do with this movie. Like the entire planet, I absolutely adore and love the Paddington movies. I think they're all masterpieces, all of them. I know a third is being made, so what can you tell people?
WHISHAW: Really, very little, because I haven't read the script, and I don't even know when we're going to start filming. I don't know, I thought it would happen now, but I don't know. It becomes silent in the way that sometimes these things do. Maybe it just means they're still working on it, or maybe it means it's not happening, or you just don't know.
I wonder if it's because Paul [King] was in the Wonka movie?
Whishaw: Yes, it probably is. Well, no, it won't be because Paul has nothing to do with... Sadly, I wonder if he's producing or writing...
WHISHAW: He probably had some involvement on that level. Yes, but he definitely wasn't directing this.
Those movies were great, you know? Have you noticed?
Wishaw: Yes, I love them too, and I see them really impacting people. Yes. I like that. I'm glad it's so close to people's hearts. it's great.
[To Alice Englert] I'm not sure if you've seen them.
ALICE ENGLERT: [laughs nervously]
Yes. right there.
Whishaw: All right. oh dear.
I thought you were friends. what happened? You went to the premiere...
WHISHAW: Didn't you see it? You haven't seen any of them.
Okay, here's the mic because I want to make sure we record it.
Wishaw: None. No, your reaction says it all.
Englert: I have no formal comment. I do remember you coming home from ADR where you were roaring Paddington the whole day.
WHISHAW: Some days I just go in and like about 30 or 40 different growls [growers] throughout the day. You get a list of things you have to do, and it says, "Little Roar," "Little Bear Roar," "Little Disappointed Roar."
Englert: I'm obsessed with this. Well, well, no more Sundance Movie. I'm going home, I'm going to see Paddington. I do hear it's great. Our producer said she watched the movie the other day when she was stressful and it made everything better.
Wishaw: They are absolutely beautiful movies. They are they are delightful
Now that you've completed your first feature, do you have the script you're considering on your desk? Are you considering another feature?
ENGLERT: I have two things I want to write about. I wrote something for Marlon [Williams], he played Elmore in Bad Behavior, which is also a family movie in a sense. I wrote a fantasy story for him, and since he was obviously playing an actor who was playing a character, I kind of got carried away writing it...
WHISHAW: Wrote the whole movie.
Englert: No, I didn't do that! This tickles me occasionally, and there are a few things I like, but nothing to rave about. I just want to do it myself and see how I feel.
WHISHAW: Better to do that.
I'd love to talk more specifically about the film, and Jennifer's outstanding performance.
She's a talented actress, and she's really good at it, and one of the reasons she's so good is because you're directing with COVID.
Englert: [laughs] I get out of her way.
I'm serious, she does a great job with this, but I don't want to be specific since no one has seen it yet.
Englert: You are too kind. I love Jennifer-love because I love her too. I just find her incredible.
She's been great too.
When she's on screen, you just believe she's the person, it's not acting, it's just that she is the person. Ben is also very good. You're also pretty good as an actress, but I'm talking about Jennifer now.
Whishaw: We love Jennifer.
ENGLERT: Yes, we are fans.
Whishaw: We are believers. We are disciples.
Special thanks to our 2023 partners at Sundance, including display partner Saratoga Spring Water and supporting partners Marbl Toronto, EMFACE, Sommsation, Hendrick’s Gin, Stella Artois, mou and the all-electric vehicle Fisker Ocean.