The most engaging and meaningful films are often the ones that encourage their viewers to ponder life’s most emotional and influential moral dilemmas. Director Marc Meyers’ new English-language remake of filmmaker Paolo Virzi’s award-winning 2013 drama of the same name, both of which are based on the Stephen Amidon 2004 novel, also of the same name, is one such movie that encourages its audience to consider those ethical predicaments. Through smart class commentary, the story for the new crime-drama, which was written by Oren Moverman, ponders what’s worth more to the current American society: vast sums of money, or a person’s liberty.
‘Human Capital’ premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. It’s now available through DirecTV Cinema, and is set to be released On Demand this Friday, March 20, by Vertical Entertainment.
As perspectives shift between parents and children, ‘Human Capital’ follows an impulsive business deal that brings together two families from across the social divide, who must contend with tragic consequences. A real estate agent, Drew (Liev Schreiber), puts his livelihood at stake with a desperate gamble, even though he has learned that his therapist second wife, Ronnie (Betty Gabriel), is expecting twins.
But a seemingly lucky break appears to change Drew’s fortune, after he drops off his teenage daughter, Shannon (Maya Hawke), at the manse of her boyfriend, Jamie (Fred Hechinger). Jamie’s the son of superstar venture capitalist, Quint Manning (Peter Sarsgaard), who’s looking for a tennis partner. Drew almost became a pro tennis player when he was younger, so he uses his experience in the sport to become close with Quint, and propose helping his latest hedge fund.
While Drew tries to secure and maintain the deal with Quint, certain events begin to be retold from the perspective of Quint’s wife, Carrie (Marisa Tomei). The former actress has turned into a dissatisfied trophy wife, who’s main purpose in life has been reduced to run interference between her only child-Jamie-and his demanding father. She sees an opportunity for fulfillment by reviving an old art deco theater and turning it into a new community arts center, until problems with the hedge fund arise.
The events are retold again from the viewpoint of Shannon, who’s still resentful over her mother’s long-ago abandonment, and her father’s second marriage. A hit-and-run accident that was first introduced during Drew’s perspective now takes center stage as the main plot point. Police have figured out the bicyclist was injured by Jamie’s car, but don’t know who was driving. It was either Jamie himself; Shannon, who he has just broken up with; or Ian (Alex Wolff), her new boyfriend, who’s a patient of her stepmother’s.
Meyers took the time recently to talk about directing ‘Human Capital’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed that he was drawn to helm the movie because he wanted to bring Moverman’s adaptation to screen, and appreciated that the story examines American class through the non-conventional structure. He also mentioned that he cast the main actors, including Schreiber, Wolff, Hawke, Sarsgaard and Tomei, because he felt that they could have open collaborations together about what the characters are like.
ShockYa (SY): You directed the upcoming crime drama, ‘Human Capital.’ What was it about the script that convinced you to helm the film? How did you become involved in directing the movie, and how would you describe your helming style on the set?
Marc Meyers (MM): The script originally came to me from my wife, Jody Girgenti, who’s my producing partner. We’ve made a handful of movies together before, the last one being ‘My Friend Dahmer.’ In response to that one coming out, a friend of hers, who’s a development executive producer, had given her the script for ‘Human Capital’ for us to read.
We both fell in love with it immediately for so many different reasons. We were both already fans of the screenwriter, Oren Moverman. So when I read it, I was very excited to open up something that came from him, because his work is so rich in dialogue. So I knew it would be a wonderful piece of material to work on with the actors.
What I also liked about the project was what it was about. It was looking at American class; the loss of community; and the way that under these circumstances, people all scramble to their own corners to save themselves. I also liked that it was based on an acclaimed novel that had been written a decade earlier, and its themes about American class are still relevant.
I also liked that the story is told in this non-conventional structure, where I could play around with passage of time. I felt that was an exciting way to tell a story.
So for all of those reasons, I became involved, which must have been in the spring of 2018. Then I met with Liev Schreiber, and gave the script to my friend, Alex Wolff (who also appeared in ‘My Friend Dahmer’). Then we filmed in November and December of 2018.
SY: The drama deals with not only themes of modern class and capitalism, like you mentioned, but also family dynamics and the roller coaster of adolescence. How did you approach balancing the class imbalances with the family turmoil, to reflect the struggles that current audiences are also contending with?
MM: One of the things that I always loved about the script and its structure was that the meaning of the film is expressed in a unique form. It’s told in these three separate tales, which reflects the separation of class.
The story of Liev’s character shows the experience of the middle class, as he’s a real estate broker. There’s also the story of Marisa Tomei’s character, who’s part of the upper class. Even though she’s part of the one percent, she’s leading a lonely existence in her mansion. Then the story of Liev’s character’s daughter, who’s played by Maya Hawke (the daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman), shows how she’s falling in love with a kid from the other side of the tracks, and is lower class.
So the separation of American class is expressed in the film through that structure. I thought that was an exciting way to communicate the meaning of how we live these separate lives, and we don’t really understand someone else’s existence in another class. It’s that separation that allows us, as viewers, to make assumptions about characters, only later to visit the story from that character’s perspective. Then we can look back, and realize that the other character didn’t understand what this character was going through.
SY: You mentioned several of the actors who appear in ‘Human Capital,’ including Liev, Alex, Marisa and Maya. What was the casting process like for the crime drama?
MM: Well, I’ve worked with the same casting director on four or five different films. We once again collaborated with casting director Stephanie Holbrook, who already knows the type of actors I like to work with on my films. The script was shared, and reps read it and loved it, knowing that it was something that was going to be made. I was fortunate in the fact that I was able to sit down with a lot of these actors who were interested, and we immediately connected and were excited to collaborate together.
I first met with Maya when she was filming ‘Stranger Things.’ Shannon was a character she really wanted to explore, as she deeply related to, and understood, her. The character also reminded her of parts of herself, and what it’s like growing up as a teenager now.
Alex and I previously worked on ‘My Friend Dahmer’ together. I just gave him the script, and he immediately locked in to the role of Ian, which I wanted him to do; I thought it would be very different for him to play the bad boy who’s really fragile and unpredictable.
Liev and I met early on, and connected over the big ideas about the story’s about. We felt that the meaning of the movie was important to get out there into the world.
Peter Sarsgaard and I both live in Brooklyn, so we sat down for lunch. He was also really excited to explore the character of Quint. Peter had examples in his own life of powerful, very smart and wealthy men who were kings of their own domain. So with that, he had a way into his role.
The same thing happened with Marisa; she was also very excited to play her character of Carrie. It felt very natural to work with her.
I look to work with actors who I think I can be friends, and have open collaborations, with, and I share many of the same ideas about what the characters are like. But I do let them know that they have the room to explore the possibilities of where that character may go.
SY: Once the actors were cast, what was the process like of working with them to build their characters’ motivations, emotions and relationships?
MM: With an independent film like this one, you have a very limited amount of time to make the movie. So you don’t have much time in advance to get everyone together. That was certainly the case with this film.
So I had a lot of conversations with the actors in advance. They were processing about what they were thinking about. As I was location scouting, and finding the homes for their characters, I was updating them on what I was also realizing about their characters. That was important in expressing the differences in their lifestyles.
From the beautiful house where Marisa and Peter’s characters live in, to the middle-class house in a dense middle-class neighborhood where Liev’s character lives, to the smaller house under the flight path of the airport where Alex’s character lives with his uncle, are vital parts of the story. So I kept updating them on the world I was building around their characters.
Liev was shooting ‘SNL’ the week before we began filming. He shot the show on a Saturday night, and by Monday afternoon, he joined us for his first day of filming. Maya was filming ‘Stranger Things,’ and shot her last scene on a Saturday night or Sunday morning, and then flew up to New York from Atlanta. She was on our set to shoot the first scene on Monday morning. Marisa arrived abouth a week-and-a-half into filming.
So there wasn’t even anytime for a read-through with the actors, because they were all so busy. Those were just the circumstances that we were dealt. So we instead had a lot of preliminary conversations over the phone, and did some rehearsing right before we filmed each scene.
SY: ‘Human Capital’ is told in three different sections, from the perspectives of three different characters. What was the process of determining how the story would be told through the point-of-views of the different characters like, especially when it came to editing he movie?
MM: Well, I went into the editing room very open-minded to the many ways that we could interpret the footage. I also knew that when you’re shooting with intention, certain scenes are best expressed with the original plan.
But there was exploration into different ways into moving around some of the scenes, to see what that would do to our understanding of the story. What that proved was that the original design of the script and how I shot it was the best and strongest way to tell the story, from beginning to end. Focusing a certain amount of time with Liev, Marisa and Maya’s perspectives proved the best way to tell the story.
SY: ‘Human Capital’ was released through DirecTV Cinema on February 20, before it’s released in On Demand (this) Friday, March 20 by Vertical Entertainment. Why do you feel the digital release is beneficial for an independent film like this one?
MM: Well, you’re asking that during an interesting time in the United States! We premiered at (the) Toronto (International Film Festival), with the hope of finding a distributor out of its premiere. The release was then decided on by the work of the producers and sales agents.
DirecTV and Vertical Entertainment are moving forward with the most enthusiastic and passionate financial package to release the movie in North America. We have other buyers picking it up for European and other regional distribution.
With the Coronavirus, people will be spending an unknown amount of time at home. So having the On Demand release seems to be the most appropriate way for the movie to enter the world right now.