2017 Interviews

‘Take Me’: Director-Actor Pat Healy and Editor Brian Scofield on Comedic Kinks and Cinematic Hijinks

Ray Moody, the main character in star and director Pat Healy’s 2017 feature Take Me, owns a business that is as dubious as it is eyebrow-raising. Titled Kidnap Solutions, LLC, Ray’s service offers clients the chance to pay for and participate in their own simulated abduction, with the hopes that the experience will scare them straight out of whatever vice or emotional hang-up they’re currently mired in. Offering a thoroughly unscientific and legally questionable form of shock therapy, Ray’s business model is soon upended when a mysteriously breathy-voiced woman by the name of Anna St. Clair (a dazzling Taylor Schilling, whose maniacal range is given the perfect vehicle here) calls to enlist him for his services. As a high-powered corporate executive, Anna’s allure is matched only by her erratic peculiarity; a fact that is quickly established in her cryptic call to Ray, whereby she lays out the conditions of her patronage — conditions that require the entrepreneur to make some adjustments to his usual policies, to say the least. One such accommodation is that the abduction take place over the course of a weekend instead of the usual eight hours, with another request stipulating that Ray consistently slap her throughout. Hesitant but desperately broke, Ray’s reluctance soon falls to the wayside when Anna offers to pay him $5000.

What ensues is a twisty and farcical series of hijinks between Anna and an increasingly exasperated Ray, as the former goes from tepid participation in the kidnapping role-play, to a sudden and hostile attempt at escape that fluctuates between seemingly genuine displays of fear, disorientation, vulnerability, insolence and combative violence.

A seasoned character actor with a resume boasting over 60 films — ranging from Compliance to Cheap Thrills — Healy gained the indie brain trust of the Duplass brothers, who served as co-executive producers. As Take Me’s editor, Brian Scofield has a similarly eclectic filmography under his belt, working on such films as The Tree of Life and Suicide Squad, and when I sat down with the duo last month following their Tribeca world premiere, they were keen to discuss Take Me’s unique spin on the buddy comedy, the film’s fetishistic tinge and deceptively light tone, the immeasurable talents of their screwball heroine and what it’s like to work on a Hitchcockian slapstick noir.

It’s interesting how Ray and Anna’s relationship remains strictly platonic, despite there being a subtle thread of sexual tension that Take Me indulges in, particularly through Anna’s role-playing proclivities. Can you talk a little bit about their dynamic and why you chose to subvert those sexual or romantic expectations?

Healy: Well, this movie is sort of like an S&M movie without the sex. It has all of the underpinnings of an S&M relationship, but it doesn’t have sex. And certainly, he sees her as attractive — he finds her alluring, he romanticizes this whole thing, but I don’t think it’s reciprocated.

Were those underpinnings intentional?

Healy: Of course. I mean there’s a woman wrapped in plastic and there’s always going to be people who like that kind of thing. If you put a ball gag in a movie, then there will definitely be people with whom that appeals to. And I’m fine with that, because I think the artist’s intent is really only one part of the experience. People have all kinds of different interpretations and I think that’s great.

Scofield: Taylor said something interesting in her last Q&A about the film’s S&M, in that [Anna] is literally asking to be slapped throughout most of the movie — but, that’s clearly substituting for some other deep need. I like that she remains an enigma because it’s kind of left up to the audience to fill in the gaps as to what she is substituting for. Are the stories of her life that she reveals to Ray actually true, or is that part of the role she was playing? Whereas with Ray, he makes the decision to take her for the whole weekend, and we’re left in a similar position of, “Is this because he’s sexually attracted to that blonde woman on the screen, or because he really needs the money?”

Healy: Or some combination of both.

Scofield: He’s such an emasculated character on so many levels that he’s clearly compensating for some deeper need, and I think these two characters were paired really well. It harkens back to this era when all the sexual energy was there, without any actual sex.

Healy: In a way it would be easier to make their relationship sexual. I’m not saying it’s better or worse, but this was the version that was written and it occurred to me to be the most interesting and original.

How did Taylor come on board with this project?

Healy: Shortly after I read the script, Jay and Mark [Duplass] presented me with a long list of actresses for the role, and I chose Taylor mainly because of her range. If you watch Orange Is the New Black, you see her go from being all over the place — from very low comedy to very high comedy with excellent timing — to then commanding the most harrowing, dramatic, emotionally charged material. And just as suddenly her character snaps and is just straight up crazy. I love Carole Lombard because she’s part screwball comedy heroine and part Hitchcockian blonde, and Taylor similarly has both qualities.

Scofield: She looks like Lombard in wardrobe.

Healy: There really aren’t too many beautiful, glamorous blonde movie stars who are also funny and can play nuts.

Scofield: And part of that is people don’t give them an opportunity very often, and so by taking out an explicitly romantic or sexual relationship, Taylor has room to do so many other things.

Healy: Rather than be the girlfriend of the protagonist, she’s this dynamic force of nature that comes in — and ultimately, it’s to right him in his life, to get him to start being real with himself. Whether she intends to or not, that’s the effect that she has. But, it’s not just in the service of romance or my character’s journey. She’s got a whole other thing going on that we don’t know about, and maybe it’s about two broken, lonely people who don’t know how to communicate. That’s what happens a lot in screwball “buddy” comedies, where each person isn’t on the same page. And in this case, they’re literally not on the same page. They’ve decided to act in this play together, and they don’t realize they have completely different scripts.

Can you talk a little bit about the meta implications of the kidnapping simulation? There’s the film itself, the film’s fictional universe and the characters’ reality within it, and the actual role-playing scenario.

Healy: And then we’re actors who are playing people who are playing actors in Los Angeles, where it’s hard to connect with people. Even when you’re not acting in a movie, you’re often acting like someone or something to get something from someone. Having lived there for 19 years now, it’s deeply a part of my psyche, so whether I was conscious of it or not while filming, to some degree it is sort of emotionally autobiographical. And to watch myself in post-production was kind of a crazy experience, to say nothing of watching audiences watch me during screenings.

Scofield: What really drew me to this project were just the layers of reality, where even after working on it for months, I would think about performance differently because it was constantly evolving. What’s the line between role-play and reality — both in the movie and in the characters’ own heads — and even between Pat and Taylor? It was just so fascinating to see how much they brought their own personality and emotions into it. It was fascinating to watch an artist work in a bizarre self-portrait.

There’s a hilarious and excruciating moment where Ray resorts to swallowing a set of car keys. Would you say this was the farthest you’ve pushed the envelope in terms of physical comedy? Kudos to you for so palpably communicating your character’s esophageal discomfort.

Scofield: Have you seen Cheap Thrills?

Healy: That scene in Cheap Thrills was much more intense and graphic, this is more comedic. It’s not any less real or painful since I put the same effort and intention into both. It’s just that in this context it’s funnier and less gory or gross.

Scofield: One fun note I got was “we like it every time Pat gets hurt!”

Healy: It’s like my brand now. One of Mark Duplass’ notes was me getting shot with a pellet, which he doubled down on by adding a second pellet shot, as you see. With that key scene, the script specifically said that I would swallow a car key — well, a car key used to be very different back then, whereas nowadays when we pick out a car and the production designer comes with a key to a Mercedes, it’s the size of a remote control. It wasn’t until we took a look at it right before shooting that we realized this could be another source of comedy, because he’s going to have to swallow something that’s impossible to swallow.

I tried a bunch of things from the craft services table, and what worked best was a big piece of rye bread rolled up in a tight ball. I stuck that in — and as I swallowed, it got stuck in my throat, but the saliva would dissolve it so that it actually looks like I’m swallowing something that’s too big for me to swallow — because I am.

We didn’t have the budget to make an edible car key so I had to put myself through some pain.

Were you afraid that showing too much blood would draw away from the comedic punch of the film’s gory slapstick gags?

Healy: Yes. In fact, I didn’t want to go that graphic with it because to use Cheap Thrills as an example, there are people who will never see it because of how graphic it is. Not to take away from that movie, but we weren’t ever going to make this film really graphic. We could’ve had blood exploding, but even with the bloody scenes we did include there was a back and forth because we had much more graphic blood squirting shots.

Scofield: I thought it was comically graphic, though for some people we did push it too far.

Healy: We were thinking along the lines of Monty Python. While those scenes made us laugh, it caught some people in a certain way, so we walked it back a bit in an effort to get as many people as possible to come see the film. I realized that it didn’t need to be that graphic.

Scofield: It wasn’t worth alienating people just to have an extra gimmick.

Yet, you walk that fine line very delicately, because just when it seems like the envelope is about to be pushed too far, you guys pull back.

Healy: And that’s what’s going on in the movie, too. You see Anna pulling Ray along, and you’re wondering what’s going on — because just when they seem like they’ve talked it out and Anna gets Ray to let his guard down, she launches another attack on him.

As far as screwball comedies go, I was surprised by how deeply psychological it is.

Healy: Of course, and that’s the Hitchcockian noir part of it. We wanted to torture people as much as possible and keep them in suspense, and there’s no greater master of suspense.

Scofield: I think that for Pat, the movie is instinctively a noir screwball, because that’s who he is. No other filmmaker would’ve known how to balance those two genres, and they wouldn’t have even tried. Instead they would’ve made this movie into a dark thriller since the script is very open to interpretation. The script was funny, but it wasn’t nearly as funny as Pat made it because that’s his sensibility, and I think he knew he could get somewhere deeper emotionally with this type of movie if he balanced out the comedy.

Healy: This may be an overstatement, but everything has been done, so the only thing that’s really original is to take things that don’t necessarily go together and jam them up against each other and see what happens.

Take Me does follow the loosest template of a buddy comedy, but there are also unexpected tonal shifts where the humor adds to the suspense, and the suspense adds to the humor.

Healy: Suspense works in all genres, not just thrillers. It’s always about wanting people to anticipate what’s going to happen next, and you want to drag it out for as long as possible because that’s what keeps people interested. Anyone can watch anything passively, but I want people to be actively engaged where they lean forward in their seats and wonder what’s going on based on the information in front of them. I like to leave little breadcrumbs here and there. Those are the movies I like to watch, because otherwise I get bored.

Which comedies did you take inspiration from?

Healy: Midnight Run is certainly one, and I also love The In-Laws. There are a couple of movies that I like from the 90s that are less buddy comedy and more dark comedy — War of the Roses and Death Becomes Her are two examples that come to mind.

Scofield: You also mentioned Something Wild.

Healy: Well yeah, people are recognizing screwball noir as a subgenre now, and I think After Hours and The King of Comedy are two movies that paved the way. The King of Comedy is my favorite movie.

It’s funny you say that, because throughout the film I kept thinking about After Hours, and all the parallels that film shares with this one. Not unlike the surreal trials and tribulations that After Hours’ Paul has to face over the course of one night, the series of events in your film become a kind of absurd endurance test for Ray.

Healy: The King of Comedy and After Hours have this tone that no other movies have, where all of the tension works and all of the comedy works.

It’s the same thing with John Landis’ Into the Night — these films are all kind of noir-lite, but they’re also absurdly funny.

To go back to your formidable costar for a moment, what was it like directing Ms. Schilling?

Healy: Taylor was just — I mean, I was half intimidated and half just a really captive audience member, because even when you don’t know what the hell she’s doing, it’s fascinating.

As a director, did you adopt a more hands on approach, or did you give Ms. Schilling more creative latitude?

Healy: We really gave her some free reign. I think maybe she’s used to being directed a lot. I don’t know why, because she doesn’t need to be. I also wanted all kinds of different takes on the script, and she likes to do that anyway and play around with the material, so it worked out all right. And the way that Anna keeps Ray on the hook just played to Taylor’s strengths as an actor really well.  Like that bathroom scene was all one take — at first, she’s crying and you feel so bad for her, then she’s hilariously funny, and just as suddenly, she’s yelling at me and becomes terrifying. It’s easy for her to do that rollercoaster really well.

Did she have a certain process in between takes where she would go off on her own to recharge in order to get herself into that headspace?

Healy: No, she just has this crazy energy and is always ready to go. I envy her. I’m not trying to cut myself down; she’s just really talented.

There are certain micro-expressions that she absolutely nails. What comes to mind, of course, are her signature lip quivers — and you capture those tics in a way that becomes a signature point of focus throughout the film.

Healy: She’s just a natural in every way, and that includes being naturally funny. We’re both kind of crazy, you know? I mean we’re both a little off our rocker.

That makes for the best artists.

Healy: I’d say the dynamic of our relationship in the movie is pretty close to what our actual dynamic was. And I find that I’ve had that in other movies, where you unconsciously start to develop a very similar relationship with the other person both onscreen and off.

Brian, how did editing this particular style of comedy differ from editing a drama, or any other more straightforward genre film?

Scofield: I don’t think in terms of editing a comedy versus a drama, so much as I try to edit for the director’s voice, and I think half of my job is being a therapist or a companion. It’s learning to speak the director’s language, and you find that by talking to each other, you’re finding the language of the movie you’re making together. Take Me is a comedy, so you have to figure out what the comedic language of this particular movie is. I could edit another comedy, and it wouldn’t be the same.

This movie is so much about reaction shots and so much about rhythm; it’s about surprises and it’s about subverting expectations. But building all those things is the same thing as building suspense; you build up an expectation here, and subvert it there. This project was so much fun to edit because of the way it shifts between tones and styles — you’re laughing one minute and on edge the next. And this is the kind of movie where the more you watch, the more you pick up on the little funny details.

Healy: That’s something that was very important to me, because the best movies are the ones that you can watch over and over again — where you know all the twists after seeing it the first time around, and by the second time, you can just enjoy watching Taylor’s performance and appreciate all of the little details. I actually think it would be better the second time around, or so I hope. It’s only 84 minutes anyway, so it’s not that bad.

Which means you were able to avoid dragging out the movie, and I appreciated the film’s economical pacing.

Scofield: With movies nowadays, unless you’re making a sweeping epic that demands it, I’m of the opinion now that every minute over 90 has to be really earned.

Healy: And movies are longer than ever, and I can’t understand why, though I do have a theory. Like even comedies are way too long — the new Adam Sandler movie on Netflix is two hours and 10 minutes!

I love Punch Drunk Love, and even though that movie is like an hour shorter than his more contemporary ones, it has a really unique tone with hints of screwball comedy and musical elements, while also being very dark and violent. It, too, is about lonely people in Los Angeles who are isolated or estranged.

Though I wouldn’t classify this movie as a dark comedy, because some of the sight gags in this film just wouldn’t be found in that genre. I think your “screwball noir” classification is more apt.

Healy: Lots of people who see it think it’s very fun and charming. And I think that’s great for a movie that’s got S&M and graphic violence and more f-bombs than a Philadelphia Eagles game.

Scofield: I was sitting next to an older woman tonight, and it was the first time that I picked up on the number of “fucks.”

Any upcoming projects that we can look forward to?

Healy: I’m working on this movie with Christina Hendricks and Aaron Paul called The Burning Woman, which Jake Scott is directing. I also just shot a TV pilot and will be in two new movies following The Burning Woman.

Scofield: I just finished a film that’ll be coming out soon called Six Balloons. It’s also a Netflix movie, with Abby Jacobson and Dave Franco. It’s actually pretty serious with just enough comedy to keep it moving along. I’ll also be cutting another more serious thriller called Welcome Home directed by George Ratliff. And funny enough, it was just announced that Aaron Paul is also signed on along with Emily Ratajkowski, so I’m really looking forward to that.

*This interview has been slightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Demitra “Demi” Kampakis (@DemionFilm) is a Cinema Studies major who graduated with a Bachelors of Science degree in Biology. She is a Brooklyn-based neurotic film fiend with a soft spot for any auteur-driven psychological fare. As the current film editor for Posture Magazine, Demi has also written for Indiewire and Film Comment, and she uses her spare time to manage her own website Cinefiles of a Cinephile.