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Massy Tadjedin: Last Night is a movie about a couple [Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington] that is apart for the night. The husband goes away with a colleague he’s attracted to [Eva Mendes], and while he’s away, the wife runs into a man from her past [Guillaume Canet], the one she left behind, with whom she could have built a life. It’s about the different temptations in it that both of them face.
Tribeca: As the writer and director, what inspired you to tell this story?
Massy Tadjedin: That’s the hardest question for me. I think with some films, with some stories, you can say you wanted to tell this kind of story. With this, I did go to the blank page and—I’m being honest—this is the story that came out. So maybe on some level, these were questions I was asking in my own life, and I was trying to figure it out through the writing and telling of this story.
Tribeca: Did you figure it out?
Massy Tadjedin: I don’t think I did figure it out. I really don’t.
Tribeca: It’s funny, I watched this over Christmas with my parents, who have been married for 45 years. And we were all talking about it the next day—
Massy Tadjedin: Oh really? Oh great.
Tribeca: I was really moved by it, I’m sure it is about what you bring with you. I think that’s what makes it interesting. I love movies where you can talk about them and not have any clear answers.
Massy Tadjedin: Me too.
Tribeca: What’s the craziest, or “lightning strikes” moment that happened during production?
Massy Tadjedin: I think with everything, weather is a variable. I remember that the farewell scene between in front of the Soho House… It was unexpectedly gratifying because the gray and the somberness and the wetness and the—just the heaviness—that the rain brought was actually just a really nice touch for the scene. It’s one of those things where, if you did script it, it would not have seemed as organic as when it happened.
And there was another moment when the light was very kind to us, and that was when we were shooting Sam on the train on the ride home. Sam had a fever of 102 degrees, and he was tired. But then the sun just did that beautiful thing that it does at magic hour and lent us that reflectiveness that I think made the moment even heavier. Those are the surprises that when they happen, you don’t always have the wherewithal when you’re on a rushed schedule to appreciate them, but you do the moment you see them.
Tribeca: What’s the biggest thing you learned from making Last Night, which is your debut feature as a director? Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
Massy Tadjedin: I honestly learned something large every day. I think the various stages and incarnations that the film goes through with everyone’s contributions—that is something that you can’t anticipate until you’ve done it. That was a wonderful thing to be a part of and to see.
My advice? I wish personally that I had shot more before I did this film. I think there are things you can prepare for, but there are things you just don’t know until you’ve done them. And I feel you just don’t know what the editing process will be like until you’ve gone through a shoot. So: start shooting everything, because you’ll regret the years you didn’t and could have. Start shooting on anything, all the time, as much as you can, because you’ll be appreciative of the experience that gives you.
Tribeca: Last Night is a New York story, but it has an international cast. Can you talk a little bit about those choices?
Massy Tadjedin: I didn’t set out to have it be as international as it is. I just cast organically. And we ended up as very believable in 2011, with a woman from England, a man from Australia, a Cuban-American woman, and a man from France. I think that New York City, especially, with its very rich population—rich meaning diverse—this is a swatch of what any block in the city could look like on any given day.
I don’t like the trend of actors sort of adopting an American accent. It just seems very bizarre to me, because there are people living in America who don’t actually go have an American accent. So I was grateful for that. But I also felt like it summarized the idea of the film—that the world we live in now is so much more intimate than it has ever been before, with email and planes and cell phones and texting and all of this. People who used to be too far away to think of as possibilities are actually still reachable. You are able to find the man from your past, from five years ago, oftentimes with the ‘send’ button and nothing more.
It’s very different from the age of, let’s say, Anna Karenina, when they were in the country, there wasn’t even a phone line between, you had to sort of get on a train. And I feel like that does complicate marriage in our time, or relationships, or commitments.
New York is a city, to me, where it’s very believable that a night like this can happen, because New York is a place where you don’t know what’s around the corner. And as large and huge and massive as it is, it feels so small, in the sense that you really do go to a deli and see someone you haven’t seen in four years, and it makes you probably rethink your week, not every time, but enough times. I think anyone who’s spent time in the city has sort of had incidents like that happen. And it’s magical. New York is one of my favorite cities in films, and it’s one of my favorite cities in the world.
Tribeca: At the same time, your story is very universal. It could happen anywhere.
Massy Tadjedin: This film was originally set in LA, between LA and New Mexico. And then I feel like very quickly, as we started to cast, it felt like New York was a better option. But originally on the page, in my apartment when I was writing this, the original city that I had typed in was Los Angeles, and then it sort of migrated. But yeah, it is, I hope it’s very universal.
It’s not about relationships in New York. It’s about relationships anywhere. Anyone who’s been in a relationship can identify with one or more parts of this.
Tribeca: What are your hopes for Last Night at Tribeca?
Massy Tadjedin: Well, with Tribeca it’s particularly satisfying to be in the area where we shot the film. I think Tribeca is a great festival for new films and newer filmmakers, and I think that that is a very exciting thing to be a part of. Tribeca just feels like it’s making very fine introductions between audiences and filmmakers that otherwise might not find each other.
Tribeca: If you could have dinner with any filmmaker alive or dead, who would it be?
Massy Tadjedin: Ingmar Bergman. No question. I love him. I think that I would want to have dinner with him in Faro, his island. I love his films so much that I think I would actually fall in love with him if I met him. I think he seems just like such a soulful and intelligent and funny and witty man. I mean, if you take a slice of any one of his films, and you think that maybe a tenth of that would be across the table from you at dinner, then that is a pretty phenomenal dinner.
Tribeca: What piece of art (book, film, music, TV show, what have you) are you recommending most to your friends right now?
Massy Tadjedin: The things that I’ve been recommending most to friends right now, have been—I really like The Possessed, by Elif Batuman. It’s a record of her journey with Russian authors. It’s just a really great read. I’ve been recommending it to everyone. And I recently discovered William Trevor, who I had missed somehow. The Collected Stories came out, and I sort of ate that book up, and have been definitely gifting it to several friends.
Tribeca: Did you read Felicia’s Journey?
Massy Tadjedin: Yes! Oh my goodness!
Tribeca: There’s a beautiful movie, too—
Massy Tadjedin: Yes, and I had no idea that it was based on—I just missed William Trevor. I feel like it’s akin to how I discovered Alice Munro, but that was a long time ago. And then there’s also a literary magazine that I just subscribed to called n+1. And then, film-wise, I’ve been saying for the longest time, because a lot of people haven’t heard about it, A Prophet, the French film. I love that! I thought Tahar Rahim was incredible in it. And I’ve been telling everyone about that. And The White Ribbon a lot of my friends haven’t seen, so I’ve been recommending that to a lot of people. Those are the ones that I have been actually gifting and shoving.
Tribeca: What would your biopic be called?
Massy Tadjedin: There Are No Answers. It’s a truism.
Tribeca: So what makes Last Night a Tribeca must see?
Massy Tadjedin: Last Night is romantic, and it’s relatable, and it’s honest. I think it’s a must see because you will likely have a conversation that you didn’t expect to have after you’ve seen the film. And I think it will make you hopefully ask a question about a part of your life that you haven’t necessarily anticipated you would be asking.
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