Starring rising talents Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) and Tom Cullen (Downton Abbey), Joey Klein's The Other Half marks the Montreal-born actor's impressive debut as a writer and director. We spoke to Klein about the film – an immersive drama about a co-dependent relationship between a grieving man and a woman with bipolar disorder – and about keeping it real (and sometimes unreal).
I ended up watching The Other Half on a computer in the IT department at the office. I enjoyed it a lot, but it really cried out for a better viewing experience. So, I guess I apologize.
That's too bad. It's so driven by movement and soundtrack. When I meet a festival programmer, I ask if they don't mind, could they watch it in a dark room with great sound. They look at me like I'm an annoying filmmaker geek.
I guess that's something Hitchcock, back in the day, didn't have to worry about.
No, not at all. It becomes a fear almost, when it comes to how somebody is going to watch your film. My parents watched The Other Half on a laptop.
The film centres on two characters who are deeply afflicted, emotionally. You wrote it. Where did the inspiration come from?
It wasn't autobiographical. And it wasn't intellectual or strategic. But it was very personal. It came out of me. It was heavy. It was a need. The word vomit keeps on coming up. I don't know anyone who is bipolar and I didn't lose a brother. But I lost my best friend when I was 13. It shouldn't have happened. When I was 17, I had a delayed grief – kind of a breakdown.
Would you prefer people just watched the film, rather than you talk about where it came from?
I go back and forth on how much I want to share. I don't want to disrespect what this film is all about. But we've been to festivals with this film, and lovely, amazing people have shared such personal things with us. So it only seems fair that I share myself.
It's a balance. Which is what I think the film is about. Fair to say?
Thanks, yeah. I think it's a lifelong thing. Which is why the film ends the way it does. There was no question about ending it any other way.
The film's big scene, in which Tatiana Maslany's character has her breakdown, how long did that take?
We shot this film in 16 days. We gave ourselves a couple of hours to do that scene. Tatiana probably did it eight times. And I can say for a fact that we could have used the first take. It would have been glorious. But we did it more times so we could get different angles. I think the closing moment in the scene was the final take.
It's a heavy scene. Did you tell her after eight takes that you probably could have just used the first one?
[Laughs.] Tatiana is one of the few people who is a purebred artist. She could have done more. It's tough. You want to give yourself all the options. I shouldn't say this, but I think she was nauseous after that. It took so much, she actually felt physically sick.
To get back to balance, I think you found a sweet spot – heavy drama without exaggerated emotions. Can you talk about the tone and the restraint of the film?
Thanks for bringing that up. That's a bit of an obsession of mine, the balance between drama and melodrama, with impressionism and minimalism, with specks of magical realism or surrealism. I don't want to see pure naturalism or realism. Because I'm living it.
You want escape?
Well, I want to escape a bit. It's about trying to ground something in realism, but giving it elements of feeling. It's not literally a dream. It's whatever you want it to be.
The Other Half opens in select cinemas on Friday.
This interview has been edited and condensed.