Some more experienced people are struggling to recapture the praise and connections they once held in their professional and personal lives, as their talent and bonds irrevocably begin to diminish. Meanwhile, others who are first beginning to pursue their dreams may squander their goals if they’re also stuck contending with the issues that have already wronged them in their lives. This exploration into how young adults revert to manipulate those around them is presented between the main character, the formerly acclaimed Hollywood screenwriter, Keith Michaels (Hugh Grant), and the sometimes antagonist and aspiring scribe and student, Karen (Bella Heathcote), who he recently began teaching, in the romantic comedy, ‘The Rewrite.’ The independent film enthrallingly showcases Karen manipulating Keith to not only help her sell her screenplay in Hollywood, but also stand in for her estranged father, even though the award-winning writer is primarily searching for a way to revive his own floundering career.
‘The Rewrite,’ which was written and directed by Marc Lawrence, and is now playing in theaters and on VOD and iTunes, follows Keith as he finally realizes that after winning an Academy Award for his first script, ‘Paradise Lost,’ 15 years ago. However, he has reached the point in his career that he can no longer hold onto the fame for his only hit film. Nearly broke and unable to find work with a studio, he’s willing to take any work he can find. So his agent convinces him to accept a writer-in-residency position at SUNY Binghamton’s creative writing program in Upstate New York. While the scribe is initially hesitant to move across the country to what he perceives to be an isolated town, he decides that the position will provide him the time and opportunity to finally pen his Oscar-winning movie’s long-anticipated sequel.
Once he arrives in Binghamton, Keith meets several of his fellow professors, including the sentimental department chair, Dr. Lerner (J.K. Simmons), who’s also a former Navy Seal; his next door neighbor, Jim (Chris Elliott), who’s a Shakespeare-reciting professor; and a sensitive women’s studies professor, Mary Weldon (Allison Janney), who’s easily insulted by the screenwriter’s approach to both his professional and personal lives. Dr. Lerner soon informs Keith that he must read the 30-page scripts submitted by the students who are interested in taking his class and pick the 10 most promising stories. However, he barely reads through the screenplays and picks the students he’s most interested in meeting after looking at their social networking profiles. After the class begins, Keith begins a personal relationship with one of the students, Karen (Bella Heathcote), who he met on the first day he arrived in New York.
But Keith’s approach to his class, and life in general, is unexpectedly changed when he meets single mother Holly Carpenter (Marisa Tomei), who’s working two jobs so that she can go back to school and try a creative career. After seeing that she’s undaunted by any obstacle she faces in life, he realizes that he, too, can finally distance himself from his self-destructive tendencies. He sets out to not only move past having trouble getting his projects greenlit, but also the fact that he hasn’t spoken to his college-age son in over a year after his divorce, to find the courage to pursue what he really wants in life.
Heathcote generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘The Rewrite’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actress discussed how she was immediately drawn to play the devious Karen in the romantic comedy, as she’s not like any character she’s played before; and how Karen doesn’t know she’s looking for guidance from Keith, even though she started a personal relationship with him for his claim to fame, because she doesn’t admit to the fact that she has unresolved issues with her father.
ShockYa (SY): You play Karen Gabney, a spoiled co-ed who is not afraid to place her new screenwriting professor, Keith Michaels, who’s played by Hugh Grant, in her targets the second he steps foot on campus. What was it about the character, as well as the script overall, that convinced you to take on the role?
Bella Heathcote (BH): Karen was so interesting to me, because she’s not like any character I’ve been cast to play before. She’s very forward, and doesn’t take no for an answer. She’s kind of a spoiled brat, and very manipulative, while I always get cast as the girl next door in serious films. So it was a completely different type of character for me.
SY: How did you become a part of the romantic comedy? What was the audition process like for the role of Karen when you first met with the film’s director, Marc Lawrence?
BH: The (producers) were casting the film out of New York, so I did some Skype interviews with them from L.A. I also read for someone in L.A., and then flew out to New York to read with Hugh, which was great. It was his job to be funny, and I was there to be the brunt of his jokes (laughs). So it was pretty great auditioning with him. I felt very comfortable with him, and he was very charming.
SY: What was the process of working with Marc, who also wrote the script for ‘The Rewrite,’ on the set once filming began? Do you prefer working with directors who also penned the script?
BH: Yes, it’s great, because they have a complete understanding of what they want, especially since they’ve developed the story since its conception. Marc’s lovely to work with because he has a great sense of humor. He made the set a really nice place to be. He was a really gentle guy, and gave good notes.
SY: Karen’s father was never there for her, which leaves her to contend with trust and abandonment issues. As a result, she’s quite manipulative with the older men in her life, and sees Keith as her ticket to Hollywood. What was the process of showcasing that emotional arc throughout the film, as Karen uses the older men in her life, particularly her professors, to get what she wants?
BH: Karen doesn’t know she’s looking for guidance, because she doesn’t admit to the fact that she has daddy issues. She just thinks she’s attracted to older men, and has a fling with Hugh’s character because of his claim to fame. Working with Hugh was great, because all his character does is flirt, and Karen just gets sh*tty with him. So overall, the process was fun.
SY: The film’s story presents an important philosophical argument, in which Hugh’s character insists that talent cannot be taught, while Marisa Tomei’s character, Holly, believes that if people work hard enough, then there’s nothing they can’t learn. Which side did you think Karen believed, and how did you work to showcase that throughout the film?
BH: Karen probably doesn’t particularly think about that. She just cruises through life, doing the least amount of work possible. But I do think she experiences some growth in the film. She has a moment with Hugh’s character, during which he breaks everything down for her. So I don’t know if it’s really about writing for her. But I imagine she’s the type of person who thinks you either have it or you don’t, more so than Marisa’s character, Holly, does.
SY: While Keith moves to Binghamton, New York to teach the screenwriting class at the university there, the film’s college scenes were actually shot on the campus of LIU Post in Brookville, on Long Island, which is actually where I attended college. What was the process of filming on location at the college? Do you prefer working on location while you’re filming, as opposed to on a studio soundstage?
BH: Filming on location can be fun, especially when everyone’s there with you. It’s nice to be able to go out, and feel as though you’re family. It was interesting to work at a college with a bunch of girls-it was like being at school again, which was hilarious. (laughs)
SY: You were born in Melbourne, Australia, where you started your acting career on the television soap opera, ‘Neighbours.’ How does filming in Australia compare and contrast to shooting in the U.S., particularly L.A. and New York?
BH: There’s not much of a difference between filming in America and Australia, perhaps other than resources. I do find it to be more city-specific in the U.S. than in Australia-there are differences between filming in L.A. and New York. It’s based on people’s attitudes. New York is a no-nonsense place to work, which is great, because people say what they mean. No one pulls punches there.
SY: What was the process of shooting ‘The Rewrite’ independently? Did that process offer you a creative freedom to develop Karen the way you wanted?
BH: I think we film for about five weeks, but it didn’t feel that short or hurried. It felt pretty relaxed from my perspective, but I wasn’t the director or Hugh. I’m sure they have a very different take on it.
SY: Speaking of the director, now that you have starred in a variety of different genres in film, would you be interested in helming a project in the future, as well?
BH: I don’t think so. I think you have to be a very specific type of person to be a director-you have to be very confident in your abilities, as well as those in the people around you, because you have to lean on them. I just don’t know that I’d be able, or have the desire, to do that. But maybe one day I’d be interested in trying it.
SY: With ‘The Rewrite’ being a comedy, did you, Hugh and the rest of the cast improv at all while you were filming, to help bring a natural, comedic tone to the story and characters?
BH: I think we mainly all stuck to the script. Well, I can actually only speak for myself in that regard. (laughs) In a Hugh Grant film, he’s the funniest one, but there were also a lot of funny people in this movie.
SY: ‘The Rewrite’ mainly focuses on Hugh’s character, Keith, trying to reinvent himself as he not only strived to revive his professional writing career in Hollywood, but also his personal relationships, while also searching for his life’s true meaning. Do you think audiences can relate to his professional and personal struggles?
BH: Yes, sure. If they’re going to reinvent yourself, people can definitely relate to Hugh’s character’s story, as well as aspects from other characters in the film.
SY: How does the process of making ‘The Rewrite,’ which is a comedy that focuses on the characters’ emotional arcs, compare and contrast to the other film genres you’ve starred in, including the horror adaptation, ‘Dark Shadows,’ the musical drama, ‘Not Fade Away,’ and the sci-fi-action-thriller, ‘In Time?’ Is there one particular genre that you prefer over the other?
BH: I love it all; I’ve loved every job I’ve done. I love the variety, which is one of the best things about this job. The experiences have all been different. It’s nice being on a small production, because you get to know everyone better. The set feels more close-knit, like a community and a family.
But the big productions are great, as well, because of the resources available, and the fantastic things you get to do. I also love to perform stunts, and I’ve been able to do that in every film. But all of my experiences have been great.
SY: Besides starring in films, you have also appeared on several episodes of ‘Neighbours’ in your native Australia. How does acting on a TV series compare and contrast to starring in movies? Do you have a preference of performing in one medium over the other?
BH: Yes, I’d love to star on television again; I think some of the best scripts I read now are for television. So I’d be happy to star on more shows. ‘Neighbours’ was a different thing all together, because it’s a soap opera; it moves at such a fast pace. We would get one or two takes, and then have to move on. It was my only TV experience so far, and it was pretty challenging. But it was great.
SY: Having starred in different film genres, as well as television, are you interested in performing in theater in the future?
BH: Maybe-I did go to a theater and drama school. But the idea scares the sh*t out of me. I think there’s something very confronting about being on stage, in front of an audience. There’s no room for error in theater. There a reassurance in knowing someone can yell cut (on a film and television) set, and you can have a second take.
SY: What’s the process of relating to not only Karen, but all of the characters you have played throughout your career?
BH: I relate to all of my characters; there’s a part of them in all of us. You have a connection to any other human, if you look for it. I don’t have a specific approach to relating to my characters; the process just happens. I feel like I understand all my characters, in some way.
SY: Besides ‘The Rewrite,’ do you have any other upcoming projects lined up that you can discuss?
BH: My next job is ‘The Neon Demon,’ which shoots in March in L.A. I’m really looking forward to it.
Written by: Karen Benardello