Note: This interview first ran as part of our coverage of the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival. Every Day opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, January 14. Find tickets. It will also be available on demand; check your local listings.
Tribeca: Tell us a little about Every Day.
Richard Levine: Every Day is really a film that follows a period of time in the life of a middle-aged TV writer [navigating] the bumps in a long-term marriage as he's dealing with a gay son who's come out at age 14 and a father-in-law that he and his wife have brought to New York in the last period of the father-in-law's life. It's a very difficult chapter in this guy's life, as he's dealing with very everyday problems, but in so many ways, it's a very extraordinary period of time.
Tribeca: What inspired you to tell this story?
Richard Levine: I would say that the seeds of it are autobiographical, and I felt that the issues I was confronting were similar to so many people I know, although the specifics were definitely unique to me. There were too many wonderful scenes in my head that I needed to write about, and it blossomed into this movie. The issues, the emotional ups and downs, were compelling for me, and as a writer, they were just ripe for telling.
Tribeca: What was the craziest thing—like a lightning strikes kind of moment—that happened during filming?
Richard Levine: There were so many! Just every step of the way was like a lightning moment, going from the agents loving it to finding two stars who attached themselves to it—Liev Schreiber and Helen Hunt—and finding a producing entity that loved it and financed it. I mean, for my first film I'm told it happened really [easily]—it was like a dream.
And then the fact that everyone was fine with my directing it; it was a first feature experience for me. But all the pieces really fell in line in the most wonderful way. I got all the actors I dreamed of having... You know these types of films: the budgets are small, they're not paying a lot, so... to work with actors of that caliber and know that it was going to be a challenging shoot was really a thrill. Every step of the way, I literally would have to pinch myself because it was such a dream come true.
Tribeca: As a first-time filmmaker, what did you learn? What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers? What was your background before?
Richard Levine: I'm a TV writer, so I've written a lot of TV and I've done a little bit of directing on TV, and then before that, I had an acting background. [My advice is to] rehearse... Everything was so new because of the time constraint, and so much of directing seemed to be about "Hurry up and make the day," and so I think you have to be extraordinarily organized. I think rehearsing is essential, and [so is] having some sort of plan, even though you've got to be flexible and you have to adapt.
Tribeca: What's the biggest thing you learned while making this film as a first-time director?
Richard Levine: I think just by virtue of having done it once, I feel more confident, and I think the fact that it was my first time and I was dealing with some very formidable talent, that I learned... every actor is different, and so every relationship you have with them is different. Sometimes you've got people working together who require a different kind of process, and so it was really fascinating for me to sort of open myself up to their process and know that my vision is going to change and adapt to include them, because now it's not me at the computer acting out all the parts myself.
Tribeca: You have two of the "It" people in our Festival this year. Ezra Miller and Brian Dennehy are both in at least two movies this year [check out Beware the Gonzo and Meet Monica Velour], and Ezra Miller's City Island was at Tribeca last year, too. So how did you capture the zeitgeist?
Richard Levine: Because the kids are sort of based on my kids, I was really, really fussy, and I really wanted great kids. I also knew that this movie wouldn't work if you didn't love these boys [because then] you weren't going to love the parents; those boys are symbolic of something right happening in that household. And I think I saw 70 boys before Ezra came in, and I just wasn't finding it... [The character] is a junior in high school and [is] a gay kid, and I was looking for someone who embodied Jordan, had no shame, and was good-hearted, loving, funny, loved to dance, and was really strongly independent.
And so many of the kids I saw at that age—they were talented, they were funny, but they had a sort of chip on their shoulder. There was something about them where I thought, "They're not happy." And we even flew some kids in from California 'cause it was like down to the wire. There weren't many other people to see. And [when] Ezra walked in—I think he was maybe the last person to come in—I just knew instantly. He cracked me up, he was sort of smart aleck-y, but in such a smart, funny way. Clearly he loved to dance. He had every quality that I was looking for, and I just loved him.
Tribeca: I recently talked to Andy Garcia about him for City Island and he said the same thing, that they just knew immediately, and that he's so talented and so on. What about Brian Dennehy?
Richard Levine: Brian was really a streak of luck. Miranda, our producer, has a long relationship because Brian knows her dad. I never dreamed Brian would actually do it, and I hadn't seen him [in a role] for a long time, so I wasn't sure what he looked like... And also I thought it's gonna take a certain kind of actor who doesn't have a lot of vanity to embrace this part [of an older parent who is struggling physically and mentally]. And so we sent it to him, and he just fell in love with it!
I never even met him; we had an interview over the phone, and he said all the right things, and it turned out that he was so into jazz—I mean, there were so many connecting points between him and this part—and he was just a total joy to work with. He was tireless, and he just went where you needed to go emotionally, and I just think he's brilliant in it. I think he's incredible.
Tribeca: If you could have dinner with any filmmaker alive or dead, who would it be?
Richard Levine: I think of my favorite movies, but I think of really artful influences. I loved Bergman; he's been someone that I've just been devoted to and enthralled by, but I also love some contemporary movies. One of my favorite movies is The Squid and The Whale, and I really admire Noah Baumbach. [There are] certain movies that inspired me to write this movie, because there were times along the way when I thought, "Well, it's too ordinary." You know, it's not a big movie—it's a chapter, it's about moments. I happen to love Nicole Holofcener's movies, and I feel like I went to certain wells to encourage me to keep going and not give up because it wasn't big or commercial.
Tribeca: What is a piece of art—a book, a movie, a TV show, anything that you've been recommending to people lately?
Richard Levine: You know, it's so interesting. I'm going through a really weird phase of listening to Bach, and I've never done it before. And I'm just finding it to be so sublime, and I'm not doing anything while I'm listening to it. I'm just listening to it. So I feel like something good is happening... It's just like I put it on and I'm just letting it sort of wash over me, and I know that something is regenerating in my brain as a result.
Tribeca: What makes Every Day a [Tribeca] must-see?
Richard Levine: I think that it's really original. I think the characters are really unique and distinctive and funny and complex. And when I think of some of the movies that I've loved or read about at Tribeca—and that make me happy that we're at Tribeca—I feel like Tribeca really targets very original, character-based film. A lot of the movies that have played here that I love seem to be part of that world. They're funny and they're deep and they're really about very real, distinctive people.
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