Interview: Director Natasha Kermani on ‘Lucky’ and What She Looks for in Auditions and Self-Tapes

Theatre

Shudder’s new horror film, Lucky, is a “very strange story,” director Natasha Kermani admits. It’s the story of a self-help book author (Brea Grant, who also wrote the screenplay) who finds herself the victim of a stalker who returns to her home night after night. When no one believes her, she has to take matters into her own hands. It’s fun – and scary – and Kermani knows how to pile on the tension.

In this interview, Kermani (Imitation Girl) talks about the film, working with Brea Grant (who’s the writer and lead actor), and what she looks for in when actor auditions and self-tapes.

For the full interview, check out the video below. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.

Check out Lucky, streaming on Shudder

How did you initially get involved with the film?

Natasha Kermani: The script was actually sent to me by a producer who was interested in making the movie. I  read it and I was excited to read it, partially because I was a fan of Brea’s and we knew each other socially. I had a sense of her humor and who she was as a person and what her ethos was, so I read the script and I really loved it.

I felt like I had a grasp on what it was that she was trying to do with the script, so I gave her a call and said, “Hey look, here’s what I like about it and here’s what I think I can bring to the project.” And we talked a little bit about her intention, and we just had a really great initial conversation. And out of that conversation, we then went back to the producers and everything sort of got moving from there, but it was really just being sent the script initially.

What was it like to direct Brea, your lead actress, who is the same person who wrote the script?

Natasha Kermani: It was really great, honestly. I think because we were friends first, we were able to sort of start our working relationship from a place of honesty and very straightforward… not a lot of like ego or anything like being threatened by each other. None of that was ever really part of the calculation. I think we were just very focused on what was best for the movie and so really our strategy was, “Let’s tackle all of the writing stuff first.” We did all the revisions, made the alterations that need to happen and then she really sort of took off her writer’s hat and put on her actor’s hat. And at that point forward, really just focused on the performance and what she needed to do to inhabit that role. I think that was that was the right way to do it because I think that way she didn’t feel spread too thin or like she was juggling too many things.

She knows this character inside and out, probably as well as you did. Do you have to direct her or fine-tune anything or is just like, ‘Have at it.’

Natasha Kermani: Oh, no, no. We definitely were working on the scene work together. I think she actually wanted some roads into the character because she never wrote it with the intention of playing it. So, I think she was looking for some insights into getting rolling with the with the character. That was everything from like broad strokes, objective motivation stuff, down to ‘this is how I see her doing her hair, this is the kind of clothing she likes to wear.’ Once we have those initial big temple things figured out, I think at that point Brea was like, “Okay, got it.” Then she was able to dive in and develop the character from there.

For a lot of those initial conversations, I think she was welcoming outside perspective because she had never really thought of it as a role that she herself would play because she is so different from that person.

But I think for the other actors, there is also a sense of comfort and intimacy knowing that the writer is your scene partner and that everybody there is really committed to the project and really understands the character and what we’re doing. I think it does make a difference. I think everybody’s just a little bit more comfortable and excited, and it doesn’t feel like a job, you know? It feels like, “Oh, this is from your brain.”

So, everybody’s professional and they’re always going to do great work, but I think it was just one extra added layer of feeling close to the project.

The actor who, I don’t know if we should give away who wears the mask, but he does this really great job of with the physicality of the role without being able to use his face.

Natasha Kermani: Well, the first step is we knew we wanted to cast a stuntman. That was always really important to us that he be an actor but also have a background in stunts. And we found Hunter [Smith] who is just the perfect combination of all those things and also had the look that we wanted. The moment we found him, we were like, “Oh, amazing!” I actually watched… he had like a fan film where he plays the Joker and I was like, “Oh man, this guy goes all the way. I love it. I love his physicality.” So we called him and he did a great audition for us.

And the physicality was absolutely important because, as you said, he does not speak. You can’t even really use his face for most of it, so it’s all got to be his expression through his through his body. It was a lot of talking through, because he is sort of the supernatural creature, finding ways to ground it and finding ways to keep the body work consistent and logical in a way that made sense for him. One of the metaphors that really worked for him was this idea of like a toy soldier, so just finding these inorganic inhuman things that he could fit himself into, I think, was really helpful for his process.

From your perspective, what differentiates someone that you want to cast or call back for a role from someone who’s just kind of, you know, ‘fine.’

Natasha Kermani: I really like to see that the actor is grounding themselves in something that feels more solid than necessarily what’s in the sides. So, making a decision to, again, really ground yourself in a choice, right? Whatever your choice is, I think embracing it and not showing too much, but rather just making a choice that feels bold.

And then making sure that you are listening, I like to see that they’re listening.

And also, the openness of it. When the other person is reading the other lines, are you still in character, are you still grounded in that place, are you still making those choices and are you listening?

Those kind of things seem so basic but in so many tapes, I see actors not doing that. Like, that very basic thing of, “Are you waiting to say your line and then you’re going into it?” So, I think, again, sticking with your choices all the way through and if you’re giving options, really giving options and making bold choices.

It’s a tough question to answer but I think, unfortunately, a lot of people do respond to big auditions.  I am not one of those people. I would rather see a smaller audition that’s more internalized and grounding. If you’re really listening, you’re really sticking to your choice and not going big, just for the sake of appealing to very bored people who have been looking at four hours of audition tape. So that’s kind of important for me.

D you like watching self-tape auditions as opposed to having people come in and audition in front of you?

Natasha Kermani: It’s really hard for me. This is probably not what people want to hear, but i will usually call actors that I’ve already worked with and I will find a way to adjust a character to fit an actor who I love because I don’t love self-tapes.

I don’t think you can really tell that much. You can tell if somebody has the capacity to act for camera, which is important, but that doesn’t give you as much information as you need that you get from workshopping with someone. Ideally, you can do callbacks with every single actor and put them with a scene partner and really work through options and all that kind of stuff.

I think it’s almost about building relationships with filmmakers but unfortunately, sometimes you just gotta audition for something, right?

But if Ii really love working with an actor, and it could just be somebody who I worked with for half a day but we had a really great relationship and they responded to direction… they took direction well and they really came with their own ideas, I’m more likely to call that person than be excited about someone I’ve never met before. So, I’ll just say there is a lot of that intimacy thing that’s important.

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