In the indie film "You Won't Miss Me" (in select theaters today), Stella Schnabel -- the daughter of acclaimed filmmaker Julian Schnabel ("Basquiat," "Before Night Falls," "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly") -- tackles her first true film role, playing 23-year-old New York City misfit Shelly Brown. Fresh out of a psychiatric hospital, Shelly is in search of acceptance in any shape or form she can find it, and is willing to do pretty much anything to achieve that goal. It's a daring role for an untested actress, but Schnabel pulls it off with empathy, charisma and the talented direction of longtime pal Ry-Russo Young.
I had the opportunity to chat with Russo-Young, who was here in New York, and a very under-the-weather Schnabel, who called in to the interview just a wee bit late from Los Angeles, where she's currently filming Oren Moverman's "Rampart." The two old friends talked at length about their very unique collaborative process, why Stella's kissing scenes with her real-life best friend caused some off-screen drama, and how filming the movie's cinéma vérité scenes almost landed Russo-Young and Schnabel in the slammer.
MTV: You two wrote the script together. How did you meet and end up working together?
Ry: I've been best friends with Stella's older sister Lola since I was like 5 years old, so literally since like second grade. And I spent a lot of my childhood at their house and vice versa. I've known Stella for many, many years. And then after I'd graduated from school and was already doing some film, I ran into her. And she was like, "I've been doing some acting and I'd love to do something with you." And we didn't really know what that was going to be necessarily. But we hung out together and we made up this character named Shelly Brown and we wrote a biography of the character -- like where she went to school, about her parents, her first date, what kind of close she wore and all of those kinds of characteristics. And then I interviewed her in character, and she was improvising. It was primitive process, but it was really fun. For three hours I interviewed her in character, and then I went home and watched that interview and cut it together and stuff. That became the basis for the outline and the rest of the movie. Bits and pieces of that original interview are in voice over in the movie.
MTV: The movie is this interesting mix of scripted scenes and kind of cinéma vérité, where you just inserted yourselves in real-life situations. Was that challenging to pull off?
Ry: Yeah, some of it is more constructed than other parts. Some of it is just that we drop the character into quote-unquote real life and adapt it. And other parts it's much more cast and scripted.
MTV: There was a scene in a hotel lobby where the concierge seemed extremely annoyed with Stella, like he might call the cops on her. Am I right in assuming that was one of the unscripted, real-life scenes?
Ry: That was completely unscripted [laughs]. That was like, "Hopefully we won't get arrested," "Jackass"-style. Totally.
MTV: What were the scenes you were most pleased with in the film?
Ry: I don't know. I think it kind of depends. I like different parts of a lot of scenes, but then there's other parts where I'm like "Ayyyyyyyyyyyyye!" It's kind of an oscillation of both. I like some of the moments about love and courage, when Shelly's on the motorcycle and there's that weird montage that intercuts with the guy on the trapeze. It's definitely really impressionistic and kind of ballsy and all that in terms of, "Does that work?" For me personally, it works when I'm watching it because there's something about risk and falling and how falling in love can actually be like falling. You have to give so much of yourself to someone else. Those are hopefully ideas that transcend any specifics of who this girl is and what she's about.
[Stella joins the call.] Oren Moverman -- Rampart -- 103-degree fever
MTV: So Stella, what are some of your favorite scenes?
Stella: I guess I like the audition scene with Gil [Kofman] -- the masturbating scene. That scene was completely scripted, though, right Ry?
Ry: Yeah, that was one of the more scripted scenes for sure. All of the auditions were more scripted. Stella and I rehearsed that monologue in advance, and we knew more about the whole structure of the scene.
MTV: Was there any trepidation going into a scene like that?
Stella: Sure, the fear was in me for sure.
Ry: Throughout the whole movie Stella was so brave, taking risks with her character.
MTV: You were definitely put in some pretty compromising situations in the film -- which was the most uncomfortable?
Stella: I guess kissing my best friend was uncomfortable. But being in an uncomfortable place is a good place, I think, for actors. The auditioning scenes were kind of uncomfortable, which was good, because that's how auditions kind of are if they're not going so great.
MTV: You said you had to kiss your best friend for the film. Who's that?
Stella: Simon O'Connor is my best friend in real life and so to do that was kind of difficult because we've never had that kind of relationship. Not so much that it was difficult for us as it was difficult that he had to explain it to his girlfriend, and then his girlfriend was like: "Whoa, how could you not have had anything with Stella? She's so sexy. She's so this, she's so that." But it's just not that way, so it's hard to convince them, you know what I mean. It's just not like that.
MTV: You were in a couple of your father's movies when you were young, but this is the first time you've acted in a while. What made you get back into it?
Stella: Yeah, I did a few little things and then I really didn't do anything. I was not acting at all. So I kind of take this as my first thing that I've ever done. I mean, yeah -- "Basquiat" and being on his movie sets... but this is really my first movie.
MTV: Did your dad give you any pointers going in?
Stella: Nope, Ry and I kind of kept this secret. The only person in my family who knew I was doing this was my mother because she was very helpful.
Ry: Yeah, definitely helpful. We literally were storing equipment in Stella's mother's basement. And she was kind enough to let us walk it through the house and have a meal there between shooting. I mean, she was incredibly generous through this whole process.
Stella: My mom would always see me come and go because I was living at home, and she was super encouraging and positive. And she's really proud of the movie. It's actually really nice. Like a year ago or something, she told my father to watch the movie. She was like, "Look, Stella's really good in it. You need to watch the movie." And I think he attempted to watch it on a computer or something when he was in Israel and really didn't get it at all. But then he came to this screening the other day and he really dug it.
MTV: Do you guys plan on working together sometime soon?
Ry and Stella (simultaneously): I hope so! [Both laugh.]
Stella: To be honest, Ry keeps on telling me she's going to give me her new script and never does, so...
Ry: It's because I'm still revising it! I'm still revising it, and when I get to a place that I'm really proud -- I don't want to show Stella anything unless it's amazing because I know she'll tell me what's wrong with it. And I know what's wrong with it now, so I haven't given it to her yet.
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