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Interview: 'Touchy Feely' Director Lynn Shelton Talks Her Meditative Film, Cronenbergian Deleted Scenes & More

The Playlist By Charlie Schmidlin | The Playlist September 4, 2013 at 1:03PM

A different form of improvisation is felt in “Touchy Feely,” the fifth feature from Lynn Shelton; instead of the loose outlines and dialogue of the director’s recent films (“Your Sister’s Sister,” “Humpday”), it’s the film’s subjective and technical experience that feels crafted on the spot and cemented in the editing room. We follow two siblings -- masseuse Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt) and introverted dentist Josh Pais – as they adjust to their surroundings following an unexplained shift in personal energy, and Shelton achieves this through use of micro closeups, swirling sound effects, and an exploratory pace.
Touchy Feely, Ron Livingston

With your upcoming film, “Laggies,” you went through a period of unfortunately losing both of your lead actresses in a quick period of time. How do you move forward from that kind of development: do you simply push through? Head to another project and come back later?
Well, “Your Sister's Sister” was the first time that happened, and it was specifically difficult then because I had been working with that actress for eight months building the role with her. When I lost that actress, I thought the movie was dead, and then I found out it's very possible – all the work was written down. I was able to write down a character bible, and then fill Rosemarie in on all of those details. And even though we only had a few hours on the phone before we basically started shooting, she kicks ass, and I can't imagine anyone else. So that was a huge lesson: even though it feels like these people are so embedded in a role, you actually can find some one else in a pinch.

With “Laggies,” it was even easier, because it wasn't a part that I had written for that actor. In fact, it was the first film I had made in which the script originated with someone else. We developed it for two years and I gave her lots of notes, but it was a character that she had come up with. There were different versions of Megan to be played, and she would've changed with Anne Hathaway, and then Keira came in and found her own beautiful version of her. I remember Chloe Moretz had just been cast, and because she’s had this happen to her a million times, said, “You know, more often than not it was meant to be in some way." So yeah, I've become a lot less freaked out since “Your Sister’s Sister.”

Touchy Feely Rosemarie DeWitt

One of your skills as a director is taking these tidy concepts, like “massage therapist grows averse to skin,” and breaking them open to find the deeper story. “Laggies” seems to focus on stunted adolescence with Keira’s character; how did you crack that narrative?
It reminded me of my first feature [“We Go Way Back”], about an older woman who sees her 13-year-old self, but one of the thoughts that I had writing that script was, “Well, maybe it doesn't have to be her real self, but more of a proxy. So she could see some version of herself and they'd have some sort of friendship. So I saw “Laggies” as a version of what my first movie could've been.

I loved how everything that happens in the movie is unexpected but believable. I've read so many scripts where you can kind of tell what's going to happen around page 20, but here you don't know, and that's something I'm really attracted to as a filmmaker. I try to make all my films do that -- you don't know what journey it has in store for you. I'm not talking any “Usual Suspects” twists, but yeah, that’s the main thing. I don't really buy a bunch of teenagers hanging out with a 28-year-old, but in the journey in the film, it actually makes sense. I wouldn’t have wanted to do it if it was some raunchy crazy comedy; I wanted to really feel like a believable story. I don't really know why I'm attracted to those types of challenges, but I am.

“Touchy Feely” is on iTunes and VOD now, and hits theatres on Sept. 6th.

This article is related to: Touchy Feely, Lynn Shelton, Interviews, Interview, Interviews, Rosemarie DeWitt, Laggies

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