Stanley Tucci can now add “LaBute’s classical ass” to his profile. Writer/Director Neil LaBute has always been known for writing vicious men who put their female counterparts through the ringer. Naturally, that’s what Tucci’s character does in Some Velvet Morning.
Tucci plays Fred, a man attempting to worm his way back into Velvet’s (Alice Eve) life. He toys with her, manipulates her, and tries to break her down just enough that she comes crawling back into his arms.
Some Velvet Morning is set in one house with two characters, which means Tucci and Eve are in the camera’s eye for all 82 minutes of its runtime. It makes for a challenge, but Tucci was more than game for the film’s fast schedule. Of course, there were a few things that helped.
Considering the size of the film, was it a small crew?
It was a really small crew. The movie cost nothing and we shot in a real brownstone, so you couldn’t even fit in anybody. Half the time you couldn’t find your way out of the brownstone because there were too many people, even though there were only a few people [Laughs].
[Laughs] Does that make your job easier, not being surrounded by 100 crew members watching a scene?
Yeah. I like to work like that. I find it exciting. You’re going to shoot 10 pages a day, and that’s quite often a challenge. I’ve done that before, and I love it because you’re forced to work at a high level, both intellectually and creatively. In that situation, you find yourself accessing emotions you maybe wouldn’t if you had a longer period of time to think about it too much.
Since you were doing 10 pages a day, does it require a lot of rehearsal?
It usually does, but we didn’t have that time [Laughs]. We talked about it, shaped it a bit, rehearsed it, and blocked it out like a play. Changes are constantly being made throughout the process.
Do you prefer to rehearse?
I think it depends on the project. For movies I direct, I rehearse them like a play. Some scenes you can’t rehearse, but with any dialogue heavy scene, you want to. I always rehearse again on the set, to make sure everyone is comfortable and we’re still happy with what’s on the page. I always try to do that without the crew being around. Then you bring the crew in, block the set, and start to shoot. You end up saving so much time that way, as opposed to not rehearsing. If you don’t rehearse, there’s more time shooting and it takes longer to figure everything out. All you got to do is figure it out in the beginning and turn the camera on.
Does it help having a director who writes their own material?
It depends. Neil is a great writer and great director. If he or she is a writer who hasn’t really directed before…you know, some writers aren’t meant to direct, but some writers are. Some directors aren’t meant to write, therefore they really need the writer there. It all depends on the person. Some people are very comfortable doing both, and Neil is one of those people.
Having directed yourself, has that impacted the way you act?
Without question, yeah. I’m always asking questions, like, “Why are you doing this? What about this shot? What do you think about blah, blah, and blah?” Also, I want to learn. I do question things because I want to know, but also, say, if we’re doing an excessive amount of coverage. If we’re doing an excessive amount of coverage, what’s this going to end up being? Of course that was not the case with Neil. He was very judicious with his coverage.
Could you move freely in one of those rooms or did you have to hit very specific marks?
No. They were loose marks, not hard marks. They’re mostly wider shots, which I like because it gives you a real sense of freedom. Like I said, the coverage is very judicious, so you use it only when necessary.
I saw Some Velvet Morning the day after I saw Catching Fire. Is it exhausting playing characters with no filter?
Oh my God, you’re so tired at the end of the day. You’re exhausted playing Caesar because he’s on such a manic level. With Fred, the depth of emotion he is mining is pretty exhausting. The relentlessness of him, at the end of the day, makes you want to drop dead [Laughs].
[Laughs] The ending makes you completely reconsider Fred’s actions. Without giving it away, how calculative do you think Fred is?
I think they both have a lot of it preplanned, but they don’t know when it’s going to happen. I think that’s the exciting part of it.
Do you remember your reaction to those last few pages.
[Laughs] Yeah. I mean, I was shocked, but I also laughed about it. It’s so bizarre.
[Laughs] That’s a great part of Neil LaBute’s work. His characters can be so outrageous, but you know plenty of people like Fred.
Oh yeah. I think Fred is inside all of us. I don’t have to look at other people [for inspiration], because it’s all there on the page. All you had to do was follow what he wrote.
His language is very specific.
When you’re shooting 10 pages a day you’re not going to remember it word for word. Without a proper three to four week play rehearsal, you’re never going to remember word by word. Is there some latitude taken? Yes. Is it completely improvised? No, not at all. That’s what Neil wrote.
Is it easy for Neil LaBute to throwaway the words he wrote once shooting?
He is the perfect writer. Being a writer myself, I know what it’s like when people go, “Oh, do I have to say this? Is that necessary?” With this, there were no redundancies with the script or repetition. As we went through it, we all realized, “We don’t need these two pages.” I think after the first few days in our sit down reherasal we cut, like, 10 pages. After that we continued to make cuts. Something can work on the page, but as you say it, you realize you don’t need a certain piece of information or two pages can be achieved with one line. He is so open to that. He’s not precious at all, and I wish I was that flexible as a writer.
One thing Neil knows — and I always tell this to writers or filmmakers — is, “Listen, you may have this scene in a film that may have been the genesis of the film and it’s the one scene you love, but now the scene is unnecessary.” People will try to hang on to that scene or monologue, but, really, you don’t need it. It has nothing to do with the play or the movie anymore, so get rid of it. The great part is you can use it another film or play.
We’re so excited to make movies or get the play done that we’ve written that we just want to cram it all in there. We want it all to be heard and seen, but Neil is not like that. He understands the long term, and that’s a really healthy way to approach filmmaking or playwriting.
Some Velvet Morning is now in limited release and available to stream.