People can often become disconcerting and off-putting towards those around them, even their friends, families and people who care about them the most, as they struggle to find their true identity and purpose in life. This alienation can become even more aggressive as they perceive those around them have more meaningful and fulfilling lives than they do. This search for a sense of self-identity and intimacy is the gripping driving force in the new drama, ‘X/Y.’ It was written and directed by Ryan Piers Williams, who also starred in the film with his wife, America Ferrera.
‘X/Y’ follows four interconnected New Yorkers who are struggling with both their careers and personal relationships. Struggling screenwriter Mark (Williams), who is still looking for his big break, is reeling from a surprising revelation from his girlfriend, Sylvia (Ferrera), who admitted to sleeping with a co-worker (Common).
Jake (Jon Paul Phillips) is a model, DJ, artist and photographer who’s burying his pain after his break-up with his longtime girlfriend through casual sex. Meanwhile, Jen (Melonie Diaz), who’s been unlucky in love, experiences another painful encounter when she sleeps with Phil (Danny Defarrari), a man she met online. She soon discovers he’s actually married and may have given her an STD.
Ferrera, Willams, Defarrari and Diaz generously took the time to speak with Shockya on the red carpet of ‘X/Y’s world premiere at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday, April 19 at the BMCC/TPAC theater in Manhattan. Among other things, the actors and filmmaker discussed how they were thrilled and honored to have the drama open at the festival, especially since the movie was shot in, and is about the residents of, New York; how they hope the story builds compassion in audiences, and viewers begin to have more sympathy towards their friends, family and everyone around them; and how the strong bond between the actors helps emphasize that the characters are challenging, and behave in ways that are sometimes confusing, because they’re struggling to find their true purpose in life.
ShockYa (SY): What can you discuss about your character in ‘X/Y?’
America Ferrera (AF): I play Sylvia, who’s one of the four main characters. She’s one of the New Yorkers trying to navigate their relationships and sex lives and love lives.
She’s quite a complicated character. A lot of the things she does in the film are not very likeable. But I think the goal and challenge for me was to make her a sympathetic character by bringing to life her inner struggle, and what was underneath the behavior. I think that was tricky for all the characters.
I think Ryan, who was our writer-director, and is also my husband, really meant to create this world of challenging characters who behave in ways that are sometimes confusing. But he also wanted to make the audience love them. We finally get to see it with an audience, and see if we’ve succeeded.
SY: What was it like working with Ryan on the film, since you are married?
AF: It was wonderful. We’ve worked together in the past (on Willams’ directorial debut, the 2010 drama, ‘The Dry Land’), and we have a wonderful working relationship. We have such respect for one another, as well as our creativity and process, and I think we make each other stronger.
Ryan Piers Williams:
SY: You wrote the script for ‘X/Y.’ Where did you come up with the idea for the story?
Ryan Piers Williams (RPW): I came up with it, based on my observations of New Yorkers, people my age and people who were really struggling to find full connections in their lives and relationships. I think there’s a unique struggle in our generation, and I wanted to capture that in the film.
SY: Besides penning the script, you also directed ‘X/Y.’ While you were writing, was it always your intention to also helm the film?
RPW: Yes, when I wrote it, I knew I also wanted to direct it; I love directing. Writing’s the hardest part, and directing is the reward for writing. (laughs)
SY: Your wife, America Ferrera, stars as one of the main characters in the film. Why did you want to cast her in the film?
RPW: She’s an amazing actress, and I thought it was a unique role for her, and it’s something I haven’t seen her do before.
SY: Were you able to have rehearsals with America and the other actors before you began filming?
RPW: Oh yes, definitely! It wasn’t as long as I had hoped for, but we did rehearse quite a bit.
SY: What was the process of shooting the film here in New York on a shorter schedule?
RPW: It was great. I thought it was going to be very difficult to shoot in New York. But we found New Yorkers to be so open and accommodating. Everywhere you point the camera in New York looks like the most well-designed image you can ever see. So it was really fun.
SY: What does it mean to you to have the movie premiere here at the Tribeca Film Festival?
RPW: It’s great. We shot the movie in New York, and it was made by, and about, New Yorkers. So to have it at the festival is the perfect pairing.
SY: What do you hope audiences can take away from the film? Do you think they can relate to its messages?
RPW: I think they can. I really hope audiences can connect to the movie. It portrays four different characters, and each one is very different from the other. So I hope audiences can either relate directly to one character, or maybe see their friends in a different character.
I hope the film also builds compassion. I hope people come away with more compassion for themselves and their friends and families, or even just the people around them on the subway.
SY: What can you reveal about your character in ‘X/Y?’
Danny Deferrari (DD): I’m a married man who’s going on Internet dates. The woman I have a date with, and end up in bed with, is played by Melonie Diaz, and she doesn’t know I’m married. I’m a jerk, so she leaves my house, but she comes back because she forgot her purse. My wife answers the door, so there’s an awkward scene between my wife and the woman I just slept with. I get caught and found out, so it’s embarrassing and humiliating.
SY: How did you become involved in the film?
DD: I know America and Ryan socially, and I’ve seen them both work in New York a lot. They just asked me to do the role. I’m actually not even an actor; I’m a filmmaker and a novelist. They thought I was right for the role, and we just had fun.
SY: What’s the transition like from being a filmmaker to an actor?
DD: It was scary. I feel very confident being behind the camera and working with actors, as I’ve been doing it for a long time. I don’t want to look like someone who knows what they’re doing, and then go out there and look like a fool. I just wanted to have fun and relax, and let Ryan guide what he wanted from me. I’m happy it worked out.
SY: Having known Ryan and America socially, what was it like working with them on the film?
DD: They’re so cool and down to Earth. America’s such a successful, amazing woman, and Ryan’s this up-and-coming successful voice in filmmaking. They’re so humble and made it really easy, and I love that about them.
SY: What was your reaction when you found out the movie was going to be playing here at the Tribeca Film Festival?
DD: I was really thrilled. I also directed a film that opened (on Friday, April 18), and it’s also in competition, so that’s a little funny. Ryan and I saw each other the other day, and we just laughed about it. Hopefully we both do well. I’m a big fan of his work.
SY: What can you discuss about your character in ‘X/Y?’
Melonie Diaz (MD): Her name is Jen, and she’s the best friend of Sylvia, who’s played by America Ferrera. She’s the comic relief of the movie. She’s having a quarter-life crisis, and she doesn’t know who she is and what she wants. She has a really bad shopping problem, but she doesn’t have a job. She’s also dating all these people. So we capture her in this moment where she’s trying to figure out what grounds her, and what she wants.
SY: What was it like working with America on the film?
MD: She’s my friend; I’ve known her since I was 19. We worked on ‘Lords of Dogtown’ together. It was great; I actually met (America and Ryan) as they were falling in love in New York, so it was great to work with my really good friends.
SY: What was it like working with Ryan on the film?
MD: You always want to champion him, and want him to win. He’s such a nice guy; he’s collaborative and easy to be around.
SY: Were you able to relate with Jen at all?
MD: I feel like with all your characters, you are who you play, and they’re a part of you. With Jen, who hasn’t been confused about their life’s passion?
SY: What was your reaction when you heard the movie would be playing here at the Tribeca Film Festival?
MD: It’s great. I felt like it’s the right place for the films, since we shot it in New York, and it’s a New York story. Tribeca has been getting cooler and cooler as the years go on. The films get better, and it gets bigger. I’ve been here before, for (the 2012 comedy) ‘Supporting Characters.’