The feature directorial debut of You’re Next cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo, One & Two offers a coming-of-age fable set against the isolated wilderness of North Carolina. “Mad Men’s” Kiernan Shipka stars opposite Timothée Chalamet (Interstellar, “Homeland”) as Eva and Zac, a brother and sister pair, gifted with the mysterious ability to teleport anywhere within their line of sight. As their desire to escape the confines of their childhood home builds, the siblings find themselves held back by their overprotective father, Daniel (Grant Bowler), who has his own machinations in place for Zac and Eva.
ComingSoon.net sat down with Palermo and star Elizabeth Reaser (The Twilight Saga, Young Adult), who plays Evan and Zac’s mother, to discuss their modern fairy tale. Check out the full interview below and check back throughout the week for more interviews with the talented men and women behind all sorts of different SXSW debuts.
CS: How did the two of you meet for the first time?
Andrew Droz Palermo: Skype!
Elizabeth Reaser: Yeah, we met on Skype. Which is weirdly intimate in a weird way. I’m always afraid I’m going to make a terrible fool out of myself. I think I did, actually, and I said way too much. But I guess it worked!
Palermo: The film lends itself to talking about family. We were both, I think, very forthcoming about our own families, which is something that I really admired about her.
CS: You also had a partner in the writing of “One & Two.” How did that partnership form?
Palermo: Yeah, I wrote it with my childhood friend Neima Shahdadi. I had written a first draft and then brought Neima on to help me shape it up and to give me some fresh eyes.
Reaser: When I came on, it was a finished script. There were some changes along the way and when we were shooting. Andrew is the least precious writer I have ever seen when it comes to words. He’s the first to say, “This is terrible! I have to cut this!” It’s actually never terrible. It’s always pretty great. But he really knows what he needs or doesn’t need in the moment. It was always about finding the scene and not just finding some idea of the scene written a year and a half ago.
Palermo: Does that become more like theater rehearsals, then?
Reaser: Well, in theater, the director is kind of like the King and then the writer, if they’re alive, is kind of like God. You’re just hoping for the best. If it’s a new play, you can get rewrites every day. But once it’s written, you can’t change a syllable. That’s how I was brought up. You don’t improvise.
CS: In many ways, the superhuman ability in the story serves as a metaphor for change and the characters sort of coming of age. What made you decide that teleportation was the right ability to use?
Palermo: I think that, for me, it was a collision of having this amazing ability to go wherever they could see, but also being walled in and not being able to get out. Although they had this wonderful thing, they could not see themselves traveling outside of their own home still. They were still anchored to family and, to me, that’s the thing that’s the most interesting thematically. Against it all, you’re still family. You’re always together. For better or worse, your family is family and they’re all anchored together regardless of this power.
CS: Having had such experience as a cinematographer, how did the process go of selecting someone other than you for this film?
Palermo: I cast a really wide net and talked to a lot of people. I had seen a couple of music videos that Autumn [Durald] had shot. She hadn’t yet shot Palo Alto, but I just found her to be really nice and really sensitive. I felt like she was going to give me a lot. You don’t want to meet someone who isn’t going to go above and beyond. You don’t want someone who is looking at their watch and wondering how they’re going to get home as fast as possible. I really felt like she was a person who was going to give everything. She’s just an incredible cinematographer. The images in the film are incredible. Just beautiful, beautiful stuff.
CS: The pairing of Kiernan Shipka and Timothée Chalamet works so well. How did those two come to join the cast and what made them right to play off one another?
Palermo: Also through casting. I had seen Kiernan on “Mad Men.” I hadn’t yet seen anything that Timothée had done, but I saw clips from “Homeland.” He’s a very, very different character on that show. When we first met, we talked a bit about that. I guess he’s kind of arrogant on the show. I haven’t seen it in the context of the show at all. I’ve just seen clips in isolation. I wanted him to be much more insulated and brooding. He’s trying to deal with everything and he feels kind of like he’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders. He’s trying to keep the family together in his way. He handled that so well. He’s such a smart, sensitive, perceptive young man. It’s great to watch because he’s reading a lot and watching a lot of movies. I don’t know if it reminds you, Elizabeth, of your youth or anything, but I really appreciate that thirst for knowledge.
Reaser: I hate to say it, but he doesn’t remind me of me. He’s so much more impressive! He’s not afraid of his energy. He’s not trying to be cool or to act older all the time.
Palermo: Yeah, in that way he’s not at all like I was as a kid. I wanted to fit in and wanted to be liked.
CS: Did your schedule allow for much of a rehearsal process?
Palermo: There was no rehearsal process for this film. I would love to do that differently in the future, time permitting. It’s hard to do. Actors’ schedules are tough. Movie schedules are tough. Everyone is coming from different places. I do hope that everyone had time for what we needed on set. I never wanted to rush people.
Reaser: It was the least rushed I’ve ever felt on a movie in my life. We never went over.
Palermo: Yeah, we had a really well-run set and we’d sort of get the chance to rehearse on set. Jeff Keith was our AD and was amazing. He’d give me the room and I’d say, “Jeff, I’d like to talk with everybody. We’re going to work through it and talk about lines.” We’d maybe cut a line or add a line and then we’d bring in everybody, show them what we want to do, and then set up.
Reaser: I almost never don’t feel rushed and terrified. It was such a help because the movie needs for you to be allowed to be slow. You have to walk slowly and breath slowly. You have to slow down your whole inner life.
CS: You’re also acting within some truly beautiful environments. Does actually being in that world help influence your performance?
Reaser: I think it informs everything, really being there and being on location as opposed to faking it. We were definitely out in the middle of nowhere. There was no running to the store.
Palermo: Or cell phone reception, which was horrible for production, but also great for production. Everyone was forced to not sit around on their iPhones while waiting for the next set up.
Reaser: Yeah, people were forced to talk to each other and interact.
Palermo: (laughs) Yeah, they were forced to just talk or read. For me, that setting was perfect. The first time I went to that house, I wasn’t sold on it. I think it was just so hot. It was like 100 degrees. I just thought, “I don’t know about this house. This is crazy. I want out of here.” Then I revisited it with a sort of more open mind. Sitting on the front of that home and thinking about the fact that that would be all that the characters know. I would think of it being their home and owning the home, the barn, the animals and the land. It really helped me. Elizabeth befriended the donkey.
Reaser: The donkey, the dog and the chickens. There was always a dog around.
CS: There’s a very somber tone to the film itself. Does what’s going on behind the camera ever have to match that?
Reaser: Well, a lot of the tone behind the scenes had to do with Grant Bowler. He’s the craziest Australian jokester of all time.
Palermo: He’s a showman.
Reaser: He’s a showman and does a lot of accents and has a lot of stories. He would talk about Australia and so many other things. We had fun. Then, when it was time to work, he’d get so serious so fast.
Palermo: I found myself needing to kind of get into the zone a little more. Actors, I think, are so in tune with being able to get into the zone instantly. I had to kind of method direct. I would put my headphones in and just think about the movie. Like you say, Elizabeth, you sometimes feel very rushed on sets. When you’re the director, you know that you need to be hurrying up. You know there’s this machine happening around you while everyone is doing their thing. For me, it was so important to be able to have a shot and have it sit. Some shots, after it looked like the action was done, we’d just let sit there for 30 seconds. I would just sort of watch all the nature and breathe. I think that helped everyone take it a little easier.
Reaser: That’s so true. You somehow did, but I think that most directors don’t know that actually makes you feel more relaxed and trusting of the director because it makes you look so confident and controlled, which you are.
CS: When you’re dealing with a story that is, in many ways, allegorical, how important is it, Elizabeth, that you’re both on the same page as far as delivering what he may perceive as an underlying theme?
Reaser: It’s funny. If I had my druthers, I would have sat him down for days on end and just interrogated him until the cows came home. We didn’t have that kind of time, so I had to go do my homework. No director in the world wants to have that conversation with me. At a certain point, they’re like. “I don’t care. Just go away.”
Palermo: I would have welcomed it, if we had had the time!
Reaser: I’ve sort of learned over the years, though, that that’s my job. I have to figure it out and then bring my own story to the table.
CS: Special effects in this story are both very important and also very subtle. I’m curious to know at what stage did you need to figure out exactly how they were going to work and look onscreen?
Palermo: We did a couple days of testing. I worked with the visual effect supervisor, Josh Johnson, before. We worked with someone from Tippet Studio, who really helped me equip myself with some language to talk a little about it. I mean, I know about tech and am able to talk about it, but some of the things were a little more nuanced and I had a hard time articulating to Josh what I needed. It was always our marching order from the beginning to keep things real and natural. Of course, that’s the hardest thing to do. You know it when you see it, but it’s not easy to put into words. I would say, “Josh, this isn’t right. This isn’t what I need it to look like,” and I would send him images. Pictures of mist or of a weird rainbow that had gone into some fog. I would be very vague. “I want it to look heavenly!” I’m sure that frustrated him to no end. He’s such a great guy, though, and was so, so concerned about story. That’s the kind of people I want to work with. It’s not about the tech or what program he’s using. He really wants a certain story and I think he did an amazing job.