Where can a filmmaker possibly go after unleashing The Greasy Strangler upon the world? That movie is an experience. It shakes an audience, but it rattles the creator as well. For director Jim Hosking, the solution to beating the sophomore slump was to return to a script written in partnership with David Wike before The Greasy Strangler altered the cinematic landscape.
An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn clearly exists in a similar world of heightened melodrama as The Greasy Strangler, but you might be surprised to find a beating heart at its center. Aubrey Plaza retreats from a loveless marriage in pursuit of a magical night with Craig Robinson’s mysterious performer. Jemaine Clement is her tagalong sidekick who is as equally transfixed by her as she is by Robinson’s Beverly Luff Linn. Together they provoke each other into a confused but infectious relationship.
I spoke to Hosking and Wike in the Joysticks karaoke room above the Highball attached to the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. The conversation occurred just hours before their Fantastic Fest screening of An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn. They appeared a little bit anxious but were eager to get the film in front of a crowd. We discussed the difficulties of following up The Greasy Strangler, the joys of assembling their eclectic cast of talented weirdos, and the inspirations that feed their aesthetic.
Here is Part One of our conversation (Part Two will arrive closer to the October 19th release date):
I just watched the film last night. Very different than The Greasy Strangler, but they certainly share a similar vibe. How would you define your aesthetic?
Hosking: Well, actually the first thing I was going to say is it’s funny when you said, “Oh, I watched the film last night.” And I sort of realized that when I talked about The Greasy Strangler, I never had any fear about… well not fear, but vulnerability about what anyone might think of the film. It was kind of like, I remember making it and one of my producers saying, “Oh, it’s kind of beyond criticism because there’s nothing you can say about it, it’s like, it is what it is.”
I suppose there are commonalities like aesthetically with The Strangler but, it’s… I’m not really, I haven’t really answered your question but, I’m just thinking this is, you know, that it’s definitely taking place in another kind of world, like of its own a little bit, you know, like a sort of, slightly like a kind of parallel universe or something.
But, it’s very different to The Greasy Strangler I think, like, that’s almost like a cartoon, whereas, I think these are kind of real committed characters within their specific world, you know what I mean? Within the first week of shooting and I had a British A.D. on it with me and she sort of whispered to me, “God, this feels a lot like Faulty Towers” which is like an old comedy from the 70s in the UK. We were up in Eureka in Northern California. It was like, God yeah, it feels like England in the 1970s. It’s sort of, kind of, quite a strange bleak place. It was interesting to have these characters in these kinds of quite distinctive, sort of costumes, and quite distinctive looks, and quite self-involved, self-important, characters in this really kind of uninspiring bleak quite depressing place, really.
When I was looking at Emile Hirsch’s performance in particular, I thought a lot about Kids in the Hall, he seems to have tapped into Bruce McCulloch.
Hosking: I haven’t seen that one.
Oh man, I think you would love Kids in the Hall.
Hosking: Oh, is that Michael Ian Black or something.
Oh, no, no, no. It’s from the 90s. Canadian sketch comedy. Their style of performance reminds me of your films. People tend to say you have a deadpan style, or at least, that Greasy Strangler has a deadpan style. I don’t really think of it as deadpan. It’s…
Hosking: I think Sky Elobar is quite deadpan in The Greasy Strangler, yeah. But I agree with you, I don’t think I generally do.
It’s a very heightened world. You know, emotions are really high.
Hosking: In Luff Linn?
Well, yeah. But both really.
Hosking: Yes. That’s true, yeah. I think so, yeah, completely. I mean, people say that about Aubrey, about her being sort of deadpan, but I think that she brings a lot of humanity to this and it feels like a genuinely emotional performance. And the same with Jemaine Clement. I feel like I haven’t seen Jemaine like this before. I mean, Matt Berry plays it like he’s at the Globe Theater in London. (laughter) Yeah, I think, there’s a lot of explosive sort of like emotion and sadness and people. Everybody’s kinda lost and looking for love, you know.
Wike: Looking for Luff (laughter).
Hosking: Looking for Luff. (singing) Looking for Luff.
Wike: In all the wrong places.
Hosking: Yeah, but no, I don’t see the deadpan thing.
What caused the jump from Greasy Strangler to Beverly Luff Linn?
Hosking: Well, we wrote Luff Linn before I had shot The Strangler, cause it came so hot on the heels of The Greasy Strangler really. I think I shot The Strangler, was editing it while we were putting Luff Linn together, and knowing that we were going to shoot it pretty quickly. I mean, definitely for me, when I’m writing something I just don’t want to repeat myself. It’s not like I want all the films to just have no commonalities, but I was very keen for this to be different. It was really nice to write with somebody else as well. I think it was just sort of clear from the beginning that this script was going to have a lot of heart in it, you know? In a way that was kind of sort of skewed but warped in ways that sort of make us laugh. And I think we find the same kind of eccentric characters because it’s funny to us. But Dave, he wasn’t involved in The Greasy Strangler and it was definitely a totally separate thing.
Is there a particular inspiration to Beverly?
Hosking: Well, you know, I think there are inspirations for both us. The kind of characters that we’ve been excited about, you know, as we’ve grown up watching films. I mean, Dave is probably more into John Hughes films than I am. And we’re both into Hal Ashby, and we’re both into Altman and then I love Fassbinder. I think maybe Something Wild, there was like some of that went, maybe came into a bit of Luff Linn. But there’s just so much different stuff, I don’t know. It’s like it was a very free process of writing it, where we just started with a scene and that wasn’t the beginning of the film and it didn’t even end up in the film, but that kick-started the script. We’re both people who enjoy not knowing where we’re going, you know? I’m quite contrary and I probably try to sort of pervert and subvert things quite a lot. And Dave follows his heart a lot with what he writes. So we weren’t trying to make a certain kind of film, we just wanted to-
Wike: Once it was going it was very committed. That whatever this world we created was something that we couldn’t get away from. We needed to keep going, we needed to do this. So then when we finished it, we kinda thought, “Well, we should probably show it to somebody.” There was this moment of like, “What the hell are we going to do?” And people who read it felt the same, they thought there’s something in this, but we just-
Hosking: Well I felt so confident about it, but I also thought that it was really… I mean I am constantly surprised by people’s reactions to anything or anything that I’ve made, but I thought it was really commercial, really accessible. I’d written The Strangler, I’d written other scripts that I haven’t shot that were also just fucking way over there. I think we showed it to Andy Starke, who is one of the producers, and he said, “This is brilliant. This is a no-brainer. Yeah, we’ll definitely get this made.” But then it’s funny that when you start trying to put a film like this together, then you realize, oh, people’s perception is that this is a pretty eccentric sort of peculiar script.
Well, it’s from the maker of The Greasy Strangler.
Hosking: Well there’s that as well, yeah, for sure. And that carries quite a lot of baggage, especially these days I guess.
So the scripts are done. You get people to read it and you’ve got a lot of confidence towards it. You start assembling this amazing cast, I mean, how did these people flock to the film? Or did you go out fishing for them?
Hosking: Well there was some that we, either we went fishing or someone else fishing on our behalf. I know David Gordon Green, he’s an executive producer on this film and he’s a friend of ours. And I know that David knew Craig Robinson. When we first went to Craig to play Beverly, then, I guess Craig saw that David was attached to it and he knows David from Pineapple Express and whatever else. He definitely had a chat with David about what’s this Jim bloke like?
Wike: (laughs) What’s going on with this guy?
Hosking: Yeah, what’s going on with this guy?
Wike: So that was helpful. It was interesting because the cast otherwise was fairly straightforward. I mean, once it was decided they were the people, within a few days-
Hosking: Yeah like Aubrey, we sent the script to Aubrey and then I heard “She wants to Skype with you tomorrow morning, and I had to Skype with her. By then, she had watched The Greasy Strangler, she had read the script, she had watched this little video I had done on my website of a guy who’s got a mustache on his bottom and watched that a load of times. By the end of the Skype, she was like, “I really want to make this film.”
It was the same with Jemaine. It was totally straightforward, but I think he had maybe seen The Strangler as well. I think because I had made such a distinctive first film that it was a bit like you’re either in or you’re out, and somehow they were all in. They’re all looking for material that’s different and interesting to them. Like Emile really wanted to just fucking go for it, you know, and he really, really went for it. But even in like a smaller role within the film. I was so thrilled that Maria Bamford was up for doing it cuz I think she’s incredible. It was like, “Fuck man, Maria Bamford said yes. And she’s coming to Eureka.” It was so weird.
Wike: Yeah, and she had to come back twice to Eureka, which was not an easy trip. 12 hours. The next day she was just like yes, yes, yes.
Hosking: But even with like Matt Berry, I mean I know he’s not that well known over here, but he’s pretty well known in the UK. I didn’t even speak with him. I just heard, “Oh, yeah. Matt wants to do it.” I think the first time I spoke to Matt was when he was up in Eureka doing a costume fitting and it was just like… yeah, I guess they just responded to the characters.
I mean, I guess once you convinced Craig Robinson to do nothing but groan for nearly the whole shoot –
Hosking: Yeah, well there was a fun first conversation about that.
Oh yeah, I want to know about that first conversation.
Hosking: Well I said, I think I made a joke I said, “I’m sorry that you don’t really have that much to say.” Then he was like, “No man, I like these grunts. They’re like an entire language.” And that’s what it was.
And not to give anything away about the film, but once you get to the end with his character and Aubrey and then Jemaine. I was genuinely moved. The film has a real heart.
Hosking: Oh that’s really… that’s the most important thing to me.
In the last shot, my throat was like clenched.
Hosking: That’s the most important thing to me, that’s really brilliant. I mean cause I honestly feel, having made The Strangler, whatever people thought about that, I really think that the boldest thing I’ve done is some of the stuff at the end of Luff Linn. Like to me, that was really like okay, that’s actually quite a strong decision to sort of be emotionally like that, straightforward.
It was a really challenging film to make from a schedule point of view, having to get some of these really emotional scenes at the end of very long days, and they fucking smashed it. We’d shoot a scene, like that scene in the corridor, we’d have so little time and they were just so great. And yeah, not to give too much away, but Craig finally opens, it was just amazing. It was a real career fucking highlight, to be a part of that stuff, I’ll tell you. And I still get, like if I watched it, there’s stuff in there that really tugs at my heartstrings. I mean, there’s other stuff that I’m… I can feel quite exposed with certain things because it feels like it’s very emotionally kind of naked or something. I think people think I’m a prankster, that it’s sort of a joke or something.
An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn lands in select theaters and on VOD and Digital HD on October 19th.