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Arts and Entertainment

LAist Interview: Kyle Patrick Alvarez, Easier With Practice

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Being on the road can be lonely, especially when you’ve got company. Davy and his brother Sean have been spending their days driving to tiny bookshops promoting Davy’s book of short stories to sparse audiences and their nights holed up in cheap motel rooms. Then one night, alone in the motel room, Davy gets a call from a woman who wants to know what he’s wearing. What could have been a phone sex one-night-stand turns into Davy’s most intimate and long-term relationship. It keeps him going on the road but it can’t last forever; eventually Davy wants to meet Nicole, the mystery woman on the other end of the line. Easier With Practice, based on Davy Rothbart’s autobiographical GQ article “What Are You Wearing?” has an unconventional meet-cute and a twist at the end that goes to show truth is stranger than fiction.

Brian Geraghty, whom you’ll recognize from Jarhead and The Hurt Locker even though he’s not dressed in camo, stars as the film’s socially awkward lead, Davy Mitchell. Brian’s theater background (he’s currently staring in the L.A. revival of The Subject Was Roses with Martin Sheen) is apparent as he turns in a skillfully nuanced performance even through a number of long takes. That initial phone call from Nicole clocked in at around ten minutes. Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez told me they never rehearsed that pivotal scene and only shot it twice. He says he could have used either take. Brian just nailed it. I had the chance to talk to Kyle on the phone this morning. I sat on my bed in my jammies, but we didn’t talk about what we were wearing. Instead, Kyle shared the intimate details of what it was like for him to write and direct his first feature film.

LAist: In this story, Davy falls in love with a woman he knows only through the most often racy phone calls they’ve shared. Why do you think he developed this kind of emotional intimacy with someone he hadn’t actually met?

Kyle: That was always my goal with the character, to show a male character who is weak, maybe in some ways even sexually weak, not in physical interaction but in relationships and everything. I think that a lot of times when male characters are portrayed that way it’s for humor and not necessarily in a serious way. I really wanted it to be a serious issue the character was dealing with in being able to relate to women, to function with women and a certain amount of expectations that are put on him. To sort of have a character who has buckled under that pressure. I hope that that’s something kind of unique to the film.

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LAist: How was working with Brian Geraghty? I mean he is the movie. Can you see yourself working with him again in the future?

Kyle: Yeah, he is the movie and that was something I talked to him about when I first cast him, I was like, “You’re going to be as responsible for this film as I would be,” which is what’s different about it because he’s in every frame in every scene. I mean it’s not just a lead performance it’s like the only performance. We have a ton of supporting people in it but sixty percent of the film is just him by himself on the phone. So it was definitely challenging, but he had such a strong work ethic and did such a good job. I told him I would love to work with him again as long as we cast him as something that was totally different, like a womanizer, something the opposite of what he played here. I’d want to see him playing something totally, totally different.

LAist: So, the movie is unrated, but the MPAA has said it would give it an NC-17 rating, which would make it the first film ever to receive that rating without having any nudity in it. I wasn’t bothered by the language or implied singular sex. The dirtiest part of the movie for me was the mattress the brothers picked up on the side of the road to sleep on in the back of their station wagon. Please tell me that didn’t happen in real life.

Kyle: Oh, the mattress (laughs), you know it kind of did. I was looking at some photos, Davy’s always on tour, and there was this picture of him and his brother and some friend sleeping on this mattress down by the ocean or a lake somewhere and I wanted to find some way to bring that into the story to use that image. I don’t know if they ever pulled one off the side of the street, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.

LAist: The relationship Davy develops with Nicole is the heart of this story, but almost as important is the relationship between these two brothers. What can you tell us about how you created that fraternal dynamic?

Kyle: You know, it’s interesting, it’s not reflected like that in real life. His (Davy Rothbart’s) brother is Peter, not Sean. I sort of just invented that along the way. You kind of need someone who is an antagonist in the story, someone to be the voice of reason and maybe the voice of the audience to say, you know, who is this woman, why is she there, what is she doing, and also to put Davy in a place of conflict and difficulty. I tried to make it real. I have a sibling and I think not very many movies capture the sibling relationship very well. I love Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo in You Can Count on Me just because the way they portray that sibling relationship is so strong and so real in the movie, sort of that there is always going to be love even if there are personality conflicts. I wanted to capture even a tiny ounce of what they captured in that movie in this one.

LAist: His relationship with Samantha (Marguerite Moreau) is so interesting. She’s this gorgeous woman who is smart and sweet and caring towards him and yet he’s completely involved with this person on the other end of the phone line whom he has never met. Why do you think he couldn’t open himself up to the real woman in front of him?

Kyle: That was a tough thing to balance because we always wanted it to seem that even though he has issues and social anxieties that there is still a part of him that is charming and that would be appealing to her. It was a hard thing to pull off, I think the actors did a wonderful job of it, but that was sort of the idea. I remember Davy (Rothbart) told me that he’d be on the road and be more excited to hear from Nicole on the phone than in whomever he meet out at night. That was something I really wanted to get across, that yeah, he can have something attainable across from him, but that he’s so deep into his relationship with Nicole that at that point that’s the conflict and that’s the challenge for him. That yeah, there’s this thing in front of me and I can have it but there is this other thing that I really want even though I don’t know it. I think that people fall into that all the time. I mean you see it in Internet relationships where people leave their husbands and wives for people they’ve never even met or even seen photos of, so I thought it would be believable and relevant.

LAist: So how do you think this is going to be in a few years as technology is moving forward? Do you think the notion of phone sex will be antiquated, that people are going to be having Skype sex with strangers instead?

Kyle: (laughs) You know we made an effort to deal with that by putting the movie kind of in 1998, not really in 2010. In terms of his phone and the technology, I really wanted to have the movie predate the social networking era, before Friendster and MySpace and everything like that. At first when I started writing the script I was like, “I just can’t ignore the Internet,” and so I started writing in stuff like emails and Googling and it just started weighing down the story. So that’s when I decided this is going to take place before that time, loosely, we’re not going to put effort into showing a newspaper date or anything like that, we’re just going to imply that this would have been a little before the Internet started taking advantage of things. That was our effort to bring a little bit of timelessness to the movie. We didn’t want to rely too much on any type of technology, well, other than cellular phones.

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LAist: You had quite the old school cell phone in there with a distinctive ring tone, but not one I’ve heard before, like the Nokia one in Love Actually and a million other films.

Kyle: Yeah, it was an old Nokia phone and ring tone we used. We actually had to get the rights to use that.

LAist: The music in this film was specifically chosen as well and was obviously very important to you. You have some great artists in there including The Watson Twins, who I love.

Kyle: Yeah, you know we spent a lot of time, effort and money trying to get the soundtrack right, to choose songs that were relevant. I didn’t just want it to be like, “Well, we don’t know what to put here so we’ll just throw a song over it.” I think people will have to see the film to judge whether we were successful. I didn’t want it to end up being a mix tape of my favorite artists. I mean, I’m glad that it ended up being artists I really respect, but I did work really hard to make sure the songs were motivated by what was happening on the screen and not really the other way around, and to try and make it sound like they all kind of fit together to become the voice of the movie. Every song that you hear that takes place out of context, The Watson Twins are female singers but you hear them coming out of someone’s radio, but songs that take place out of the context of the film are all with male singers because the film was so focused on this character and it was so male centric.

LAist: Now before you wrote this script you were the personal assistant to a Hollywood legend. So I have to ask, has Warren Beatty seen the film yet?

Kyle: He has not, as far as I know, he has not seen the movie. I’ve told him about it and he has always been very supportive about it and whenever we’ve had LA screenings I’ve invited him. He knows the movie is out there and that we’re getting awards and those kinds of things. So, he hasn’t seen it yet, but I know he’s really, really busy so I’m sure one day… I’ve been so busy myself I haven’t had a chance to really corner him and say, “Oh, here’s a DVD, watch it now.” I just haven’t had a chance to, but I know he will. He’s always been supportive; I know he’ll take a look at it sometime soon.

LAist: What do you hope audiences will walk away with after this film?

Kyle: I hope they walk away with a conversation about identity and the character and I hope people will leave with different impressions about what happened and where the character went and where he’s going. I mean, discussion is something I feel the movie incites, for better or worse, and I feel that’s some level of success. I hope the film does get people talking about situations. So far during Q & A’s there have always been really interesting things that the movie pulled out of people. I’m really grateful for that.

Article by Courtney Quinn