Being able to naturally understand what other people are experiencing is the best way to truly connect with them, particularly during a heightened emotional state. Filmmaker Joey Klein, who made his feature film writing, directing and producing debuts on the new romantic drama, ‘The Other Half,’ transitioned to working behind the camera from an acting background. That experience in performing on screen, combined with his friendships with the movie’s lead actors, Tatiana Maslany and Tom Cullen, in his initial turn as an auteur allowed him to create a stunning exploration into a passionate relationship.
The romantic drama is now playing in select theaters and on VOD and digital platforms, courtesy of Brainstorm Media. ‘The Other Half’ received its official release after it had its World Premiere during the Narrative Feature Competition section at last year’s SXSW.
‘The Other Half’ follows the socially reclusive Nickie (Cullen), who has spent the past few years aimlessly drifting through life without a sense of purpose. Now in his late 20s, he has moved to Canada from the U.K., following the tragic and mysterious disappearance of his younger brother five years go. He still keeps in contact with his parents, albeit minimally, just to assure them that he’s managing to keep his life afloat in the foreign country.
The main interaction Nickie has with other people is through his jobs at a restaurant and as a taxi driver. But after a confrontation with an angry customer leads him to be fired from his serving position, he’s drawn to another patron, Emily (Maslany), who defends his actions. The two soon begin dating, and Emily helps Nickie contend with is grief, which he had previously been suppressing through social nonconformity.
While Emily has been helping her new boyfriend cope with his sorrows, it’s soon revealed that she’s grappling with even worse emotional pain, as she’s suffering from severe bipolar disorder. Even though she’s able to successfully function while she’s properly taking her medication, when she begins to switch between cycles of depression and elation, she loses control over her emotions, mental state and actions.
Nickie feels as though he’s able to save and protect his girlfriend during her drastic mood changes. But when she descends into full-blown mania, her protective father, Jacob (Henry Czerny), steps in to help his daughter. He decides to admit Emily into an institution, and she’s later released after she receives the care she needs over the course of a year. Upon her departure from the facility, Emily reconnects with Nickie. As they begin to bond again, the duo realizes that their relationship can only become productive if they both learn how to handle their emotional excesses.
Maslany, Cullen and Klein generously took the time recently to talk about starring in, and writing and directing, ‘The Other Half’ during an exclusive interview at New York City’s Crosby Street Hotel. Among other things, the actors and filmmaker discussed how Klein shared his script with Maslany when they were acting in another project together, and since she immediately connected with the character of Emily, she agreed to be a part of the drama. The actress then helped pass the screenplay to Cullen, who also connected with and appreciate his role of Nickie, which led the trio to truly begin building the characters and story together.
The conversation began with Maslany explaining why she was interested in playing Emily in the romantic drama. “I met Joey on another film we were both acting in. We were talking about films and art. He had a script for a feature that he had been writing for about five years, I think.”
Klein chimed in, and affirmed that he had been penning the screenplay for ‘The Other Half’ for about four or five years when he shared the idea with the Emmy Award-winning actress. He added that during the writing process, he had changed a lot about the story and characters.
“We then talked about it for about two years before Tom” also became interested in portraying Nickie, Maslany added. The actres and filmmaker “would get together very frequently, and talk for hours about the characters of Emily and Nickie, as well as the script…What drew me to Emily was her complexity, and how I had never seen a character like her before.” The performer added that once Cullen, who she’s also dating in real life, “became involved in the movie, and we were going to be able to work together, that was a huge draw for me.”
The actor then began discussing why he was interested in bringing Nickie to life on screen. “I had met Tat(iana) on my second film, and we fell in love. Then Joey found out…”
“…that we fell in love,” Maslany laughed as she quickly chimed in.
“I then met Joey, and we really clicked,” Cullen then divulged. “He then decided to put me in his movie, thank goodness.”
The director then revealed that he “thought I was being sneaky. I asked Tatiana, ‘Do you think he would want to do it?’ I think you told him right away,” which the actress affirmed with a laugh. “So I didn’t know that (Tom) knew about it,” Klein admitted. “When they started dating, I started to change the role for Tom, because I was a big fan of his work, as well as her work.” The filmmaker added that it took about five years from the time Maslany signed on to play Emily, and Cullen became attached to portray Nickie, before filming on ‘The Other Half’ began.
Klein then describe the experience of making the transition from being an actor to a narrative feature film writer and director. “The great joy of my creative life has definitely been making this movie with (Maslany and Cullen), as well as the whole group of people who brought so much to the table. I’m still an actor, but (making this film) has been the most joyous experience I’ve ever had.
“The writing process started from a very personal and private place. It really grew once I met these two. Writing is something I really enjoy, and it can be very lonely. But it’s also very exciting,” Klein admitted. The filmmaker added that he also enjoys when his collaborators bring their own ideas to a project, “and they help you elevate what you’re working on. It’s a joyous process, and it’s something you can do for a lifetime.”
Maslany then revealed that the character of Nickie drastically changed once Cullen signed on to play him. “Joey knows Tom really well, and I think (Klein) wrote things that were more challenging for (Cullen).”
The scribe then explained that he feels it’s “a privilege to know you both as not just my friends, but also as actors. (As a result,) you never write things and think, I don’t know if they can go there. They’re both really great actors, and I never felt that anything might be difficult for them…It felt like anything was possible.
“It was always clear that the people I was working with could make things happen. It was just about getting things that may not have been initially structured on paper, with their help. I think it can be difficult to get a script that’s a true structure…and I find that to be the hardest part of the process,” Klein confessed.
The helmer added that directing the actors, “and working with Bobby (Shore), our DP (Director of Photography), and everyone else on the set was far less scary than writing. I’m going through that again now, and I like that fear, but I find writing to be far more scary.”
In the script Klein wrote, he decided to have Emily reveal to Nickie after they begin dating that her illness initially surfaced when she was a teenager. Maslany then explained what her research process into a woman living with bipolar was like, and what her preparation process was also like as she began to formulate Emily’s emotional journey.
“I felt so lucky to have been able to read the script as far back as I had, and get to sit with the character for about five years. I’ve never had that luxury before. Normally you audition, get the script and two months later, you’re filming the movie, and then it’s gone,” the actress divulged.
“But with this (film), it was about talking and working. Joey did so much research, and was so diligent about the clinical and emotional side of it,” Maslany further explained. “He gave me a stack of books, and I read everything and let it percolate. Thankfully we had that time.
“But Tom had very little time to shoot, as he was shooting another series. We shot this film over like a 16-day hiatus that he had, and he flew into Toronto. He did the costume fitting, and then we had the read through, and then went straight to set,” the actress also admitted.
Cullen also chimed in on his preparation process for his role of Nickie in ‘The Other Half,’ and how he connected with the character. “I think in terms of doing research for these characters, you have to do a lot, because you owe it to the characters, as well as the people who actually experience this.
“You also have to make it the character’s version of it. There are so many variations of what people go through, and everyone’s experiences are their own. Bipolar and PTSD are things that affects a lot of people. So you need to get as much knowledge as you can, and then make it specific to the characters,” the actor disclosed. “You can’t see it as representing everybody who’s ever had bipolar or been in grief; you have to make it specific and honest. In doing so, that’s where it becomes relatable.”
Emily and Nickie genuinely seem to love each other, but at times they begin to question if they should stay together, due to his continued sorrow over his brother’s disappearance, her erratic behavior and mental deterioration at times, and the objections her father has raised about Nickie’s ability to care for Emily when she has episodes. Maslany then mentioned how she feels that the couple’s internal and external struggles have influenced their connection and desire to remain together.
“Weirdly, I think the most unnatural thing that Emily did was leaving, against all of her instincts. I think her instincts led her to want to go towards him,” the actress confessed. “But then her parents protect her, and she thinks, is this too much to put on him? I don’t know if I even trust myself.
“I think that’s a very relatable thing, in terms of relationships, and how scary it is to show your vulnerability and jealousy, as well as all of these things that we hide from our partners. But it comes out, and you just can’t help it anymore, and that’s when real intimacy happens. I think outside of the illness and PTSD, it’s about two people who are diving deep into intimacy, and all the fear that goes along with that,” Maslany further revealed.
The group then delved into the fact that Emily is a painter, and as a creative person, she appears as though she works best, and is most connected to her work, when she’s not properly following her treatment plan. “I don’t know if the art was always a part of her,” the actress admitted. Klein then chimed in, and agreed with Maslany. “I can’t say I remember when I put that in, and I wonder if that’s something we talked about. But they both are artists; (Nickie) was a musician, but he left that life.”
Cullen then jumped in and revealed that his character’s background in music “came out during shooting. I think that scene at the dinner table, I improvised the stuff about being a musician.”
While the filmmaker and actors couldn’t pinpoint the exact time that the characters’ backgrounds as artists were added into the story, Maslany shared that she appreciated how Emily “has something outside of her illness that defines her. She wants to pursue it, but people are telling her that she can’t do it. Her parents tell her that she’s not ready.
“We were talking about this before, that in this political climate, putting our politics and thoughts into our work, in whatever way that is, is important. We need to tell the stories that we think are important right now,” the actress also noted.
“Life and people are very simple. Love is by far the most important thing in the world, but I don’t think that love conquers all,” the director then revealed as he reflected on the entire story and filmmking process of ‘The Other Half.’ “I also don’t believe that time heals all wounds, and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
“But I do believe in the way the film ends, in that she’ll still be sick, and he’ll still be grieving,” Klein also admitted. “His brother still disappeared in the most terrible way, and his imagination may be worse than whatever the reality is. But they have each other, which is probably why they continue to be artists. He doesn’t have a cell phone, so he’s leaving himself in the past, and he’s truly connected to his art.”