Interview with Kristen Wiig and Sebastian Silva on Nasty Baby
Back in 2009, Chilean-born filmmaker Sebastian Silva got a lot of attention for his second film The Maid based on his own experiences as a youth. Six years later, he’s doing more improvised filmmaking with better-known actors like Michael Cera, who starred in his films Crystal Fairy and Magic Magic.
Silva’s latest is Nasty Baby, an odd mix of comedy, drama and straight-out thriller with Silva himself playing New York artist Freddy, who wants to have a baby with his boyfriend Mo (TV on the Radio frontman Tunde Adebimpe) through the artificial insemination of their closest friend Polly, played by Kristen Wiig. The only thing standing in their way is a local crazy who calls himself “The Prophet” (Reg E. Kathy), whose constant disruptions and threats becomes a problem for them.
Earlier this week, ComingSoon.net got on the phone with Sebastian and Kristen to talk about creating the relationship. Turns out that their co-star Alia Shawkat–who plays Freddy’s assistant and has a producer credit on the movie–was pivotal in bringing them together. “She told Sebastian about me and me about Sebastian,” Wiig told us. “I saw ‘Crystal Fairy’ and thought it was amazing, I loved it. We were just instant friends. We just got along very well, and it was a great creative and personal conversation.”
This year, Wiig has appeared in a number of quirky independent films with roles in Marianne Heller’s Diary of a Teenage Girl and Welcome to Me, and Nasty Baby continues that tradition. “It really starts from the script and the director,” she explained. “I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to read interesting projects like this one and ‘Skeleton Twins’ and ‘Diary.’ I feel very fortunate that those directors were interested in working with me, so I feel very lucky.”
Probably more unconventional a casting decision for Silva was casting Adebimpe, better known for his music and who has only made a few very rare acting appearances. “I had heard of Tunde because I saw TV on the Radio in Paris, but that was the only thing I knew about him and then I was looking for an African-American actor and then Alia thought of him.” Silva said. “Alia was very smart to think of Kristen and Tunde, because when I met them personally, the friendship was so instant and it was such an easy-going relationship that it just served the purpose of an improv movie about three friends that wanted to start a family. It was truly the perfect combination. Tunde’s not an actor. I mean, he’s done a couple things, but his personality was perfect for the character and I think Kristen and Tunde are somehow playing themselves really in the movie. When Freddy is hanging out with Polly, it’s me and Kristen.”
There are aspects of Nasty Baby so strange that you start to realize there must be something taken directly from Silva’s life or something he’s heard from others that inspired some of what happens. “I am a painter so I paint a lot, and for instance, when he goes to the art gallery owner brings him to an oracle and says that the oracle will make the decision, that actually happened to me a long time ago in the Lower East Side with a guy that owned a small gallery,” he confirmed. “Then the Bishop storyline. We’ve all had Bishops in our lives, I had my own. I had them in Brooklyn, in Manhattan, in L.A., I had them in Chile. There’s always an unpleasant neighbor that threatens your piece of mind and the neighborhood that you live in, so yes, at some point I wanted to kill this neighbor of mine, but instead, I made a movie.”
He also told us that the his character’s desire to have a baby and be a father is also something he’s thought about, although not quite in as selfish way as his character. “I’m 36, I want to have babies and then I don’t and then I want to. I have friends who already have babies and they tell me how amazing and miraculous it is and how it changes their lives forever. Personally, the baby part feels like some kind of spiritual initiation to become a father, so I think that’s Freddy. That’s more me, Sebastian, talking about having a baby but Freddy is more obsessed with the resemblance of the baby. He’s just so taken aback by this process of babymaking and he is making all these disgusting videos and photoshops with his face so he’s very obsessed with the ‘mini me’ idea of having babies.”
Silva talked about the improvisation process he used to get what he needed from his actors, since they only came to set with an outline of what happens. “I had done this before with ‘Crystal Fairy’ where there was no screenplay, so it was not completely new to me to get on set only with action,” he said. “We discussed the dialogue beforehand but just a little and the whole improvising aspect of a movie like this is also kind of a risk because after the third take, you basically start repeating what works, so you find out what’s going to work with the first three takes and then you just keep repeating the same thing with different camera angles and tiny here and there. You are finally working with a scripted film after the third take, but then Kristin’s background of improv and Tunde not being a trained actor and me not being an actor at all, it was the perfect combination for those natural dialogues to come out and serve the story.”
“It was really Sebastian because he knew the story and he directed us with every scene,” Wiig remarked about that process. “They were all kind of separate where we’d do the scene and we’d improvise a lot but he’d tell us what needed to happen in the scene and how these characters would feel and we all discussed it together and he had a very clear vision of how he wanted things to go, but also have it be very freeing at the same time.”
“I wasn’t thinking straight when I decided to be an actor in this film,” Silva admitted. “When we were on set, I found out that we didn’t have the time for me to look at footage and see my performance and agree or disagree. Basically I had to trust Kristen and Tunde and my DP Sergio Armstrong, who has got a really good sense of bad acting. So I had very self-conscious people around me to help me with the performance.”
“He’s a natural,” Wiig said about her director who had never acted quite to this capacity in one of his movies. “I think because he’s so involved with every aspect of the film and with every scene, he was talking about the lighting and the wardrobe and how he wanted the shot to be. He was always so in it—his mind was always on every aspect of the scene and then he would sort of jump in and be Freddy and it was kind of amazing to watch.”
Silva agreed with an anecdote we shared from Jason Bateman when he directed Bad Words about it being easier to direct the actors when he’s in the scenes with them. “That was kind of a revelation that you can move a story forward, you can rush actions and you can corner actors with questions so that you can really get things out of your co-actors by being in the scene and you’re allowed to talk. When we scream something from behind the camera and be that annoying director that interrupts a scene but when you’re in it, you’re never interrupting, you’re creating a dynamic and that was kind of a revelation.”
Wiig also spoke about doing more dramatic improv. ““It’s different because with comedic improvising, you’re still the character and you’re still adding information but there’s also that element of trying to add humor to it and it’s a different thing.”
“You really have to know who the character is to think of the dialogue and how they feel in different situations,” she continued. “I’ve never done dramatic improvisation before, so you really have to know what this person would say and how they would feel about every single thing. What kind of coffee they drink, how they walk and how they react to certain people and Sebastian and I just talked about this character and how she sees the world and relates to everybody, so that’s where it started.”
Next year, Kristen Wiig will be getting back into the studio comedies with the sequel Zoolander 2 and then the relaunch of Ghostbusters over the summer. “It’s definitely been a while since I’ve done a big film like this and they’re both so different,” she said comparing the experiences. “I really, really love making small movies, that camaraderie and the feeling of a bunch of people coming together to tell a story, raise money and coming together for the art of filmmaking. I really love it and that was one of the things that made this movie so attractive to me.”
When asked about whether she and her writing partner Annie Mumolo have been working on anything as a follow-up to their hit comedy Bridesmaids, Wiig replies, “We are on our second rewrite and we’re very excited, hope to shoot next year. We’re doing something really different, and it’s really silly and hopefully fun and yeah we’re really excited.”
Nasty Baby opens in select cities on Friday, October 23, and then will be available On Demand starting October 30.